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Album Review: World's Most Stressed Out Gardener by Chad VanGaalen
Excellent, Based on 4 Critics
No Ripcord - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Calgary-based singer-songwriter Chad VanGaalen isn't immune to the stresses of our moment. At times on World's Most Stressed Out Gardener, he wears this exhaustion plainly, but only sometimes. Other times, he's playing to, and about, the cosmic through synthscapes and extraterrestrial effects. The result is a palpable push and pull that makes his latest album feel particularly of the moment, when a year-long pandemic's end is in sight yet there's still plenty to lose sleep over.
Now that the pandemic has been around for a full year, we are partially past the records that were delayed or wrapped up under quarantine, and on to albums that are directly influenced by this long spell of social distance and degrees of despair. Though its origins pre-date the global debacle, Calgary's sound-and-visionary Chad VanGaalen side-eyes the abyss on his seventh-or-so studio album, World's Most Stressed Out Gardener. Does World's Most Stressed Out Gardener yield a harvest of hope, a bumper crop of crazy, an abundance of caution? The flora is variegated with vintage VanGaalen psychedelic sci-fi imagery grown in earthy, organic songwriting.
The best Chad VanGaalen albums don't have a consistent mood, style or even instrumental palette. Rather, they feel like anything-goes dispatches from the Calgary songwriter/producer/illustrator's workshop, where no idea is too strange and nearly anything can be used as a musical instrument.
World's Most Stressed Out Gardener, his first official album since 2017 (not including a few oddments released on Bandcamp) feels a bit like half a dozen albums in one.
Chad VanGaalen's creative habits seem conveniently pandemic-proof. The Calgary songwriter, animator, and all-purpose eccentric has been hunkered down, making records by himself in his home studio and creative den, Yoko Eno, since long before he had a public health reason to do so. The place is a bit of an inventor's laboratory where you're liable to find anything from an ancient Korg monosynth to a homemade instrument known as a "Barnswallow," and it's where VanGaalen has been building fragmented noise-pop songs that burrow deep into his colorful subconscious since 2011's excellent Diaper Island.