At the behest of a good friend, two weekend's ago I picked up Calgary artist Chad VanGaalen's third release, Soft Airplane. It hasn't left my CD player since. Sure, I feel bad that I will play this album until I can't stand it anymore, put it away for two months and then do it all over again, but it's well-deserving of such obsession.
VanGaalen's amazingly creative DIY sound is a mix of indie [folk-]rock, glitchy electronica and abrasive distortion. The one-man band recorded the tracks in the basement of his Calgary home on an old tape machine and the conversation he starts with listeners covers topics from death and murder to griptape. Not since I listened to Murder Ballads have I heard songs about death that are so pleasing to the ears.
While I usually pick a few tracks to highlight my favourite creations on an album, it's been difficult to refrain from just putting up the entire package: I am absolutely smitten from start to finish. So I'll do my best to keep it down to a couple without starting them all off "My favourite track..."
The opening track, Willow Tree, is a mellow folky piece essentially about the disposal of a body post-mortem. Chad's vocal work on this track is definitely in the higher octaves of his range, which translates into a slightly trembling sound that really emphasizes the emotion a person would feel when taking stock of their mortality. I keep waiting for his voice to crack, but it never does: the difficult subject is approached with enough resolution to keep his vocals relatively stable. The interesting contrast here is the upbeat melody of the track: the cheerful sound mixed with the talk of freedom through death seems contradictory but meshes in an amazing way. Who ever thought a song about death could be so damn pretty? Lesson learned: death can be a beautiful thing.
Bare Feet on Wet Griptape is rock to it's core and easily one of the more dancable tracks of the album. Compared to the rest of the songs, this one is traditionally constructed: rad (yes, rad) guitar riffs, tambourine, drums, et al. But you still have to keep in mind that's relative to the rest of the album; samplers, wavering guitar melodies and Chad's achingly emotive voice keep his indie-cred in check.
So the first day I brought this album to work, one of the women in my department picked it up and was reading the track list on the back. TMNT Mask jumped right out at her, because her kids do ever so much love the Ninja Turtles (a reference that had entirely blown over my head until that point. How embarrassing). This piece is ranked up there in my awesome register because it is so glitchy. The intro sounds like one of the standard beats that came with the early-nineties casio keyboards that my girlfriend's and I used to pretend to play. Combined with the TMNT reference, the track plays like a relic of my childhood. Except, a lot more introspective. And a lot darker too (
Then a word about my absolute stand-out love: Molten Light (YouTube). Just a heads up, this video might be considered NSFW, depending on the variying stodginess of your workplace. It's drawn entirely by our protagonist and is creepy as fuck. Therefore, I love it. I won't tell you any more. Just go listen to it!
I cannot wait to catch VanGaalen live at the Flemish Eye Ball in Calgary on May 16th - you can grab some tickets Here. The show is a party celebrating the 5th anniversary of the Flemish Eye record label, and Chad will be performing alongside his label-mates. From what I've seen of the snippets of live shows on Youtube, it looks like it'll be an amazing night. After that, he's embarking on a Europen Tour, so if you happen to be in the area, go out and show some support! You can pick up Soft Airplanes from Flemish Eye (Canada Only) SubPop Records and various other fine music establishments.