Year of release: 2017
Canadian one-man band Chad VanGaalen has always been interested in experimenting with sounds and textures. 2008's Soft Airplane was a breakthrough in the realm of synth-driven bedroom pop, while 2011's Diaper Island confirmed he could do catchy singles alongside rowdy lo-fi rippers all in the comfort of his own garage. His last album, 2014's Shrink Dust, turned his oddball charms towards melancholy folk; showcasing a less antic, more refined sensibility. Now, with his sixth full-length release Light Information, VanGaalen seems to be going back to the noisier tones of Diaper Island; with warbly Korg 770 washes, live drums, guitar feedback, and that unmistakably quivering vocal delivery all adding up to the kind of off-kilter soundscapes the man built his brand on.
As an illustrator and all-around eccentric, VanGaalen's world is one in which ordinary objects can be transformed into divine instruments, animation can morph into nightmarish visions (see his music video work with artists like Metz and Dan Deacon), and where one's body can be a host for parasitic demons. There's a bit of Brian Wilson's colorful pop experimentation here, a dash of Neil Young's world-weary balladry, and even some Shins-esque indie rock on display, but VanGaalen (who plays every instruments and records everything himself), is still operating on his own wavelength. Opener "Mind Highjacker's Curse" is layered with swirling synths, a driving beat, and warbly vocals, while "Host Body" quivers with distorted guitar chords, reverb-saturated walls of sound, and lyrics involving those aforementioned parasite demons. Elsewhere, there's psych surf rock ("Golden Oceans"), contemplative folk ("You Fool"), Tangerine Dream-esque instrumentals ("Prep Piano and 770") and most strikingly, a beautiful lament concerning a dying father ("Broken Bell"), which goes from melancholic to darkly humorous in a matter of verses.
The idea of a "homespun" record these days is a bit fleeting; with the digitization of media leading to an ever-expanding glut of self-made artists, but VanGaalen has been doing this kind of thing for quite a while now. He's the real deal; a multi-instrumentalist obsessed with mortality, the frailty of the human body, and loneliness all wrapped in a gauze of ramshackle quirkiness. With Light Information, he's created some of his most straightforward, but no less idiosyncratic, set of pop songs yet; distilling his peculiar worldview into something universal and downright catchy.