Chad Vangaalen - Shrink DustEven though Chad VanGaalen has been recording music for thirteen years, he has been able to retain a raw, innocent beauty in his music. Every album is filled with short stories and fables, some about VanGaalen’s own life and others just crafted from his imagination. His early recordings were predominantly indie folk songs, but over time he’s added electronic flourishes, keyboards and organs, and chaotic arrangements. On his fifth studio album (sixth if you count his side project as Black Mold), Shrink Dust, the Calgary native has brought together the past and the present to put together an engrossing psychedelic folk album.

Cut Off the Hands” welcomes the listener into VanGaalen’s sonic world – an indie folk-pop tune that starts off gently before gradually picking up the pace a bit and the sounds of an oboe and the slide guitar seem like you’re transported back into the era of traveling, big-top circuses. “Where Are You” is a hypnotic, rousing, psychedelic-folk song. “Frozen Paradise” continues the odyssey with the pulsating synthesizers and hammering bass drum providing the steady beats to this mid-tempo psych-pop song.

The next three tracks return the listener to a familiar place. “Lila” is a heartfelt ballad that echoes of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” but much more symphonic. “Weighed Sin” is also in the mold of classic Neil Young, a mellow folk-rock about self-reflection and discovery. “Monster”, meanwhile, is trippy, whimsical, slow burner about the inner monster in all of us.

Leaning on Bells” is the rocker of the album, waking up the crowd with its anthemic sound and lyrics about space travel that calls on Tame Impala and Pond. The final two tracks have an alt-country/folk feel in tone and melody. “Hangman’s Son” recalls Willie Nelson while “Cosmic Destroyer” possesses the surrealist imagery and airiness of Damien Jurado.

Shrink Dust is a journey, part fantasy, part everyday life. Where will Chad VanGaalen take us next? Until the question is answered, we will be left enjoying this album over and over again, never letting the dust settle.

Chad VanGaalen is in the midst of an extensive North American tour and then heads to Europe this summer. Check his Facebook page and website for locations and dates.

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Night Beats - Sonic BloomFor Those Who Like: The Black Angels, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Thee Oh Sees, Wooden Shjips

A hidden gem – and one that I overlooked – from last year was Night Beats’ second long player, Sonic Bloom, which was released last September. From start to finish, the album is, quite literally, a sonic escapade. The album moves effortlessly between fuzzy, reverb rock to garage rock to southern rock to psychedelic. It’ll have you chanting, punching the air, and banging your head throughout the 13-song, 52-minute LP.

On songs like “Love Ain’t Strange (Everything Else Is)”, “Playing Dead”, “Satisfy Your Mind”, and “As You Want”, the Seattle-based band have created songs that resonate with southern rock vibes, following the blueprint of The Black Angels and Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Sonic Bloom” and “Catch a Ride on the Sonic Bloom”, apply the formula of droning vocals; a spacy, melodic vibe; and the deep, heavy beats of Tarek Wegner’s bass and James Traeger’s booming drums that made fellow Pacific Northwesterners Wooden Shjips famous.

Outta Mind”, “Real Change”, and “The Seven Poisonous Wonders” are laced with reverb and fuzz and frontman Lee Blackwell’s sings in a falsetto. All together, the songs recall Thee Oh Sees, but a touch lighter and a bit more raw.

For good measure, there’s even a tinge of The Black Crowes on “The Hidden Circle” while “At the Gates” could have been something from The Black Keys’ Attack & Release with its haunting garage rock. The closer, “The New World”, is a 7+ minute track that combines all the sounds into one epic song. It’s a great ending to a terrific album.

Night Beats will play the Fisherman’s Village and Sasquatch Festivals in Washington state this month before heading to Europe, playing at a host of festivals overseas. Check their Facebook page for dates.

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