Chad VanGaalen

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Infiniheart (2004), 7/10
Skelliconnection (2006), 5/10
Soft Airplane (2008), 5/10

Chad VanGaalen, from Calgary (Canada), emerged with Infiniheart (Flemish Eye, 2004 - Sub Pop, 2005), an album that he composed, played and produced by himself, arranging the songs with a large arsenal of classical instruments, self-made instruments and digital/electronic devices. Superficially, VanGaalen appears to be yet another singer-songwriter in search for the pop melody and convinced of being the next Shakespeare. The truth is that most of his melodies have been heard before (more than once) and that his lyrics are tedious like most songwriter's lyrics. But the arrangements are indeed original. If one discards the ostensible and retreats to the factual, then this album does represent a significant breakthrough, not in terms of songwriting (or, let alone, singing) but in terms of sound. The subject is the sound that was trademarked back in the 1970s by Fleetwood Mac (in their commercial phase) and Pink Floyd (in their commercial phase) and that has simply been updated by a generation of studio wizards to the digital age (from Apples In Stereo to Rufus Wainwright). While VanGaalen is not the Mike Oldfield of 2004 (because he doesn't have Oldfield's ambition of large-scale compositions), but he is a visionary of the song format, that he bends to Neil Young-ian folk After the Afterlife) as well as to R.E.M.-ian rock (Clinicly Dead), and in between to a wide range of styles (Kill Me In My Sleep, 1000 Pound Eyelids, Echo Train, Blood Machine). Best, though, are the beat-based instrumentals Dolphinariums and J.C.'s Head on the Cross: many of the songs sound like instrumentals that are somewhat ruined by vocals.

Skelliconnection (Subpop, 2006) sounded like the leftover of the previous one. The stylistic range seemed to denote more a lack of musical skills than an eclectic taste. None of the songs truly succeeds. Each does something to spoil either the melody or the vocal display or the arrangement that would make it truly impressive.

Too many songs on Soft Airplane (2008) adhered to conventional stereotypes of how a pop song should be structured.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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