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Chad VanGaalen: Canadian Low-Fi Wunderkind

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Artist: Chad VanGaalen
Album: Infiniheart
Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: 08.23.05
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I’m a sucker for a real low-fi discovery story. You know what I’m talking about. Some musical genius is discovered after being locked in his bedroom for ten years with a 4 track and ends up creating something phenomenal. Many times I’m let down by such claims as it usually turns out to sound like, well…. some kid who has been locked in his bedroom for ten years with a 4 track. This is not the case for Canadian Chad VanGaalen, whose Sup Pop debut is intriguing low-fi candy at its very best.

Essentially, Chad VanGaalen was indeed locked in his bedroom for ten years experimenting with songwriting and recording technique. He claims to have recorded 200 albums worth of material over the last decade, which he keeps on CD-Rs that are packed in toolboxes. Kind of like Jandek on speed, except that VanGaalen has talent. “Infiniheart” is essentially a “Best Of” compilation culled from this huge collection of self-produced recordings. Hopefully it won’t take 10 more years to get a sophomore release this good.

Besides drums, horns and guitars many of the other instruments you’ll hear on “Infiniheart” were hand built and played by VanGaalen. It could be a homemade piano, a coffee can, the dried remains of a dead rat, who knows. It’ll drive you nuts if you try to figure out what instruments you are actually listening to on many of these tracks. This game of “name that instrument” is worth the price of admission alone, but the man actually makes it all sound great. Sure, sometimes something is too loud in the mix, or you may hear people talking in the background, but doesn’t that make it real? The first time I sat through the whole album I was distracted by some of these low-fi elements and odd sounds, but on the second spin it became luminous. Like when your mask fills with water on your first dive at the coral reef. It’s a bit disconcerting at first, but only takes a few moments to get your mask cleared. When you do, a foreign world suddenly becomes crystal clear, intense and beautiful.

To give you a point of reference, the vocals have that Neil Young nasal tone, not a great voice, but you wouldn’t change it for the world. The arrangements are creative and almost Beck-like and the hooks brought the Flaming Lips or tour mates the Fruit Bats to mind. A bit more production could help this record, but it certainly doesn’t need it. I would be more fearful of overproduction on this material than underproduction. Sub Pop made a good decision not to re-record these songs. Heck, they didn’t need to do much but slap a Sub Pop logo on the back cover. Chad VanGaalen is also a visual artist who contributed all the artwork you will see on the digipak.

Another thing I like about this album is that is clocks in at over 70 minutes with no filler. That’s what I like to call “value.” Chad VanGaalen will be on tour with the Fruit Bats and Rogue Wave in September. See subpop.com for details.

Track Listing:

1. Clinically Dead
2. After The Afterlife
3. Kill Me In My Sleep

4. J.C.`s Head On The Cross
5. Somewhere I Know There`s Nothing
6. Blood Machine
7. Echo Train
8. Build A Home Like A Bee
9. I Miss You Like I Miss You
10. Red Blood
11. 1000 Pound Eyelids
12. Warp Zone / Hidden Bridge
13. Chronograph #1
14. Sunshine Snare Hits
15. Liquid + Light
16. Traffic

You can download the tracks “Clinically Dead”, “Somewhere I Know There’s Nothing” and “Traffic” at Flemish Eye.

Robert Burke spends much of his time lovingly creating thematic music playlists at the Rhapsody Radish.

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