Release Date: Apr 29, 2014
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
On his newest album, Chad VanGaalen continues his multi-layered musical exploration of his own mind, this time through a sci-fi/ fantasy lens. The lyrics found on Shrink Dust are about what you expect from the album’s cover image—death, monsters, dismembered hands—but it’s clear that VanGaalen’s having fun with this album, letting his imagination guide the content even while his music reaches some of the most accessible points of his body of work so far. It’s an album that wears its weirdness on its sleeve, but it’s the best kind of weird, and a joy to listen to.
Chad VanGaalen is a family man, but artistically seems to be haunted by inner demons. He has two bands with his kids. A hardcore band called Crocodile Teeth & The Snugglers and a techno band called Banana Bread. How awesome is that? But if you watch his self-animated videos and listen to the lyrics of songs like "Molten Light" ("As she watched their bodies burn, she whispered, â??I found you and I killed you'") you might think, "holy hell I hope this guy never procreates and raises demon spawn." But inner troubles can create great art, and they have for all of history in all creative fields.
To step into Chad VanGaalen’s world is to go through the looking-glass: up is down, black is white, and when you hack off your own appendages, they’ll swim blithely away “like a pair of bloody crabs”. So far, so… enchanting? Yeah, and the rest. The Canadian freak-folk savant’s fifth LP (under his own name; he’s released countless others under assorted guises) is a partial score to a self-directed sci-fi movie, but for all their aesthetic weirdness, there’s something deeply relatable about the flawed protagonists of ‘Weighed Sin’ and ‘Monster’, whose callow whimsy masks a more disquieting melancholia.
Chad VanGaalen has long been a bastion of weirdo, Canadian art rock. But on his fifth LP, Shrink Dust, the multi-talented avant-pop songwriter can be found exploring a more refined sonic palette. Concurrently inspired by his long-awaited spaghetti western, sci-fi odyssey Tarboz, as well as his recent interest in the work of country-fried recording artists like Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers, Shrink Dust is an album with maximalist thematic potential but minimalist instrumentation.
Chad VanGaalen seems intent on bringing something quirky, colourful and otherworldly into the world. One particular account involves Chad working on plans to build a giant, grinning monster that could be seen from the windows of a children’s hospital. He’s also working on a feature-length sci-fi animation, Translated Log Of Inhabitants, with the first episode due sometime this year.
With each album, Calgary producer/musician Chad VanGaalen plunges deeper into his weird world, where quivering, tender melodies and soft acoustic guitar share space with grotesque imagery, chaotic noise and lonely thoughts on life and death, evil and love. The balance used to be weighted toward the folk side, but noise has taken over more and more, including on fifth album Shrink Dust, which is full of cosmic-country aluminium pedal steel experiments. The songs are still there, though, even more so than on 2011's Diaper Island, whose aggressive second half kind of lost the plot.
Calgary songwriter Chad VanGaalen has a complicated relationship with beauty. In 2011, he made what I thought was one of the loveliest indie-rock records of the year, but I had a lot of trouble convincing other people of that fact, because he decided to call the damn thing Diaper Island. (Its most tender ballad? Well that would be "Shave My Pussy", of course.) As a visual artist, VanGaalen dabbles in various mediums; he's made animated videos, fantastical figurines and a conceptual piece that was, according to a press release, "a literal piece of shit in a hot dog bun." Recently, he began posting on his Instagram whimsical drawings he had etched into snow: Here is a cute dinosaur, a tugboat, and what appears to be a self-portrait.
As Chad VanGaalen awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic monster. At least that’s what happened according to the best track off this prodigiously talented and prolific Albertan singer’s latest record, Shrink Dust. The song, fittingly titled “Monster”, is a dazzling window of world creation that begins with the line: “Ripping my eyelids a little bit wider are two prying hands that grew out from my shoulders, and I can’t explain why, but it’s hurting my eyes.” Welcome to VanGaalen’s universe — often surreal, mostly pretty terrifying, but always firmly planted in a strong sense of accessibility.
At this stage in the game, we sort of know what to expect when Calgary homebody Chad VanGaalen puts out a new album: woozy, spacious, acoustic-based tracks that cut beautiful, melancholy, desert-flower melodies with disturbing background noise; lyrics full of strange imagery that itches at your brain; sinewy vocal harmonies. Fifth album Shrink Dust begins with the singer/songwriter calling his severed hands "a pair of bloody crabs," crooning the words in a voice as wiry and fragile as a cobweb—very much business as usual, then, but there's something so earnest about VanGaalen's output that however much we've heard it all before, we don't mind hearing it again. .
Canadian singer/songwriter and visual artist Chad VanGaalen has been exploring off-beat, creative eccentricities and maneuvering the lo-fi D.I.Y. landscape since his 2004 debut Infiniheart. At times tender and yearning, he's also the man who named his 2011 album Diaper Island. In the years following that release, he began animating a science fiction feature to be titled Translated Log of Inhabitants, whose score he would eventually compose.
Chad VanGaalen has called this, his fifth record, ‘a folk album’. Perhaps ‘Shrink Dust’ is in its structure and themes on difficulty in love and life, but there’s another subgenre at play as it is also an essay on the nature of transformation and loss. His love of multi-instrumentalism is evident as both acoustic and electric guitars are swaddled in moaning cymbals, peppered with discordant synths and rocked gently to sleep by a wandering woodwind in the opening track ‘Cut Off My Hands’.
I might be alone in my belief that Chad VanGaalen has the most beautiful voice ever. Above all things, it is peripheral—it shivers at the idea of perfect pitch and always sounds resolute on tears. On Shrink Dust it is aggressively low-key, VanGaalen delivering his most moving, strangely forceful vocals since “Willow Tree,” a song which I would wager cannot be beaten for gorgeous melancholy.
While working on Shrink Dust, Chad Vangaalen was also elbow-deep in drawing an animated sci-fi feature called Translated Log of Inhabitants. The film’s surreal images — pitched nicely between whimsy and nightmare — seem to have crept into this fifth full-length. It opens with the Grimm’s fairy tale worthy line, “Cut off both my hands/and threw them in the sand/watched them swim away from me like a pair of bloody crabs” and winds through bestiaries (“Monster”), giant spider webs (“Evil”) and end-of-times mythology (“Cosmic Destroyer”).
Out with the old? Not quite yet. Before the year fully gears up, this Playlist lingers over some albums from 2014 that earned some belated notice — and welcomes some 2015 albums that defy the January doldrums. Jazmine Sullivan’s third studio album, “Reality Show” (RCA), to be released this week, isn’t a celebrity chronicle. Most of its songs are about rougher realities.
Chad VanGaalen is seemingly worlds apart from the rest of us. His music, visual designs and concepts flow from places few have travelled. He thrives in a jangly atmosphere of swirling electronic meditations that attempt to whisk away the folky acoustic underpinnings which sometimes get reformed into glorious pop choruses. He writes about severing his hands and watching their bloody crab like shapes disappear, perhaps searching for a better existence.
Chad VanGaalan’s new opus Shrink Dust plays out like the hybrid child of Bright Eyes and Father John Misty. Mr. VanGaalan’s voice is definitely a descendant of the Oberstian warble, while his material circles more towards the esoteric. The Calgary born songwriter sites The Flying Burrito Brothers as a major influence for this release, and doesn’t mind wearing the darkly tinged rodeo folk on his sleeve.