Chad Vangaalen has once again resurfaced from his music-making bunker, this time armed with a pedal steel as a new part of his arsenal. It’s a simplistic way to describe the sound of Shrink Dust, but then, it’s hard to come up with new ways of describing VanGaalen, easily one of Canada’s most inventive music-makers.
Diaper Island represented somewhat of a milestone, a comparatively “normal” album from VanGaalen, one that featured few, if any, glitchy electronics that could be heard on Soft Airplane or Skelliconnection. This new album could be a mixture of both “styles,” the more experimental side seen in songs like “Cut Off My Hands” and “Weird Love.”
Whatever you want to call this new album, it’s as usual compelling from the first second. VanGaalen is brilliant in his execution of unpredictable instrumentation with unique (and often grotesque) lyrics that ensure a listeners can never forget what they’ve heard.
His songs that lean more in a folky vein are the easiest to separate into melodies and lyrics. “Cut Off My Hands” describes someone doing exactly that, and watching them float away into the sea like a pair of crabs. “Monster” could be a spoken-word poem with its intense description of turning into a creature, like this opening line: “Ripping my eyelids a little bit wider are two prying hands that grew out from my shoulders.” The simple guitar and tambourines give this a laid-back feel that helps mask the dark tones of the lyrics.
Of course, this being a Chad VanGaalen, he’s never content to stick to one sound for too long. “Where Are You?” is a delirious piece of psychedelic rock filled with miles of reverb, crashing drums, and it will fill listeners with a sense of great unease. “Leaning on Bells” is a straight-up rock track, a sound that shouldn’t surprise those who saw VanGaalen’s tour a couple years back.
“Lila” is sort of like the “Sara” of Diaper Island, a sort-of love song and a lot more normal-sounding. Those looking for the aforementioned pedal steel, look no further than “Weighed Sin” and “Hangman’s Son,” both also featuring creepy stories to accompany them.
VanGaalen never runs out of ways to be compelling, and Shrink Dust is just the latest jewel in his heavy crown.
Top Tracks: “Where Are You?”; “Leaning on Bells”; “Hangman’s Son”
Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) +*swoop*