Chad VanGaalen is one of the most unique individuals and personalities in Canadian music. In this 16 years in the business, he has established himself as a Canadian institution. He does not have the fame or name recognition as Bieber, Rush, or Dion, but he’s one of the country’s most respected individuals. As a producer, he guided Alvvays on their breakout, self-titled breakout album, and he’s also worked with Women and Preoccupations. He’s created videos for Shabazz Palaces, Strand of Oaks, METZ, and Dan Deacon.
The singer-songwriter side, though, is a whole different world. Actually, VanGaalen lives in his own world that is beyond an ordinary person’s imagination. 2014’s SHRINK DUST, for instance, was clever, whimsical, off-the-wall, and a sheer delight. If he wasn’t already, the album established VanGaalen as music’s equivalent to Academy Award winners Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labrynth) and Spike Jonze (Her, Being John Malkovich). His new album, Light Information, validates The Wizard as the industry’s most creative genius.
From start to finish, Light Information is at times perplexing but always fun, quirky, and extremely insightful. Uplifting moments are interspersed with rare insights into VanGaalen’s personal life, but for the most part he keeps us at distance. By this, he takes us far away to another galaxy without completely abandoning Earth. The opener, “Mind Hijacker’s Curse”, is the start of the adventure. From start to finish, this disco-rocker is pure ecstasy, as waves of synths, tingling guitar riffs, and probing bass lines overwhelm the listener. The storyline of a being lost somewhere in the galaxy, too, is entertaining. “She’s got nobody / She’s got no place where she belongs”, sings VanGaalen. Despite the fantasy nature of the song, an element of reality is felt, as the song could very well describe how many people feel alienated in this new world order.
A similar message resonates in the sweet indie-folk number, “Pine and Clover”, which sounds at first like a Jose Gonzalez song until you get to the lyrics. VanGaalen tells the story of a “grifter”, who adapts to her surroundings yet doesn’t care for her new home’s daily quarrels.
“She was a shapeshifter.
Politics didn’t matter to her.
She’s born a billion times over
With a mind full of sweet-smelling pine and clover.”
Fantasy and reality become further entwined on the psychedelic-infused folk rocker, “Hot Body”. With an air of Neil Young, VanGaalen weaves a tale that is one part Alien and another part like the night of November 9th, 2016. In other words, the song appears to be fictional at first, but listen closely a frightening reality emerges.
Don’t trust the stranger’s words,
As she crawls out of the wasteland.
The future has become unwoven,
And they want to turn us out, man.
I’ll be their host body, yes,
For the parasitic demons.
They can eat me from the inside out.
I already hear them chewing.
On “Old Heads”, VanGaalen takes his political observations to another level. Critiquing the mob mentality of following anyone at all costs, he sings in the chorus, “Who is the operator / keeping all my cells together?” Later, he calls out, “But I wish you’d make your mind up someday soon”, pleading for people to be rational.
VanGaalen moves away from politics on the slow grooving, ’80s-inspired, Pavement-like college-rock track “Faces Lit”. His target is the dissolution of humanity as gigabytes and pixels take over the world. Meanwhile on the trippy classic rocker, “Locked in the Phase”, VanGaalen looks inward and describes how he hass become lost in this world. How he’s unable to separate fantasy from fiction.
“Caught up in a trip,
You can feel yourself moving.
Mind still stuck in the past,
But my dreams are still trooping.”
It’s not until the album’s final two songs where VanGaalen grounds himself firmly on Earth and truly reveals himself. On the tepid rocker “Broken Bells”, he displays a rare bit of emotion, as he describes the separation between him and his parents. He dedicates individual lines to both, where he tries to convince himself to see them before the end is near. On the finale, the joyous “Static Shape”, VanGaalen lets out the child in him and invites his daughters to sing back up. It’s a rare upbeat pop tune from The Wizard, but it makes for a fantastic closer because it is the one track that offers a glimmer of hope and optimism for the future.
Carve a shape into the sand,
Try to remember this beautiful land.
Try to remember as much as I can,
But not to lose faith in my fellow man
Because I really don’t need it.
Til’ you tell me that I really need it.
Chad VanGaalen’s sixth solo album is similar to his past efforts, yet so different. It possesses the same mysterious, fantastical imagination of Skelliconnection and Shrink Dust. The LP, as such, is an entertaining 40-minute escapade inside the mind of one of Canada’s creative genius. However, Light Information also represents VanGaalen’s most thoughtful and critical record. Whereas in the past he was willing to live in far off universes and dimensions, he stays closer to home. Specifically, The Wizard has crafted a political and social critique but achieved his own unique and whimsical way. The album, as such, is not so much a lecture but an entertaining joy ride through time and space where the worlds traveled are closer to home.
VanGaalen will be at POP Montreal on September 15th. His full-blown tour commences in mid-October, beginning in Europe and then hitting North America. Full dates and details are available here.
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