Chad VanGaalen demonstrates once again why he’s the world’s most creative (and weirdest) songwriter on the wacky, bizarre, yet immensely fun, ‘World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener’.
As Chad VanGaalen enters his third decade as a singer-songwriter, producer, and performer, he continues to find ways to astound. The Calgary, Alberta native is unlike any artist on the planet, as he concocts far-out, otherworldly fairy tales that are often bizarre but always entertaining and imaginative. His style, as such, requires the listener to forget about what they know and the reality they live in. Instead, the best way to experience a VanGaalen album is to not over think what he’s singing about while imagining one is an inhabitant of a distant planet. Then can we appreciate VanGaalen’s mad scientist genius and truly enjoy his wacky creativity and sense of humor, which are fully displayed on his eighth studio album, World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener.
Exactly to what world VanGaalen is referring is unknown, but it likely lies in another galaxy or alternative universe. This place is where raspy, reverb-drenched funk-rock is cool, and where the patrons drink “Spider Milk”. And it’s not just a delicacy, as VanGaalen explains:
“We lived on the spider’s milk all summer
With the eventual return of the mascot’s head
We all climbed aboard and lived inside of it”.
There is also a Japanese-inspired tranquility that rises on “Flute Peace”, on which VanGaalen demonstrates his multi-instrumental skills. The song seamlessly merges into the synthy, psychedelic adventure of “Starlight”. The track is cool, calm, and groovy in an odd way. As the song gradually builds, VanGaalen seems to be reading our minds when he utters, “We keep moving around it until we find our way / Doesn’t make much sense but it makes way”. But what is this “it”? In typical fashion, he answers our question with a question, “Who knows where the Oracle came to be like? / “What does it possibly do to know it?”
From the outer reaches of space, VanGaalen takes us to the bottom of the ocean or maybe aquarium on the gentle, folk-pop number, “Where Is It All Going?”. The song title could easily be about the entire album, and even VanGaalen admits as much. With a self-deprecating sense of humor, he delicately sings, “We would like to believe that the song we’re singing, but the words feel like they’ve got no meaning”. The rest of the song then meanders across various storylines, which might include one about a woman (mermaid maybe?) trying to find meaning in her life, a companion who feels comforted by her presence (is that you Tom Hanks?), or possibly a stressed-out gardener. The star, however, is VanGaalen’s wavering vocal delivery in the final half. It is a breathtaking moment within an album full of wonder.
Even when VanGaalen is more “linear” in his songwriting, he still goes off the board. With a melody that could have come from a child-focused TV series, “Samurai Sword” is immensely fun and humorous. Its jittery arrangement, complete with utensils tapping on some copper pipes, is delightful. The story of an absent-minded individual losing his friend’s cherished weapon is truly laughable.
“Has anybody seen a samurai sword?
I think I left it leaning on the outhouse door
It has a blade that has been tempered by the blood of the Gods
And a tiny little sticker of a dog”
Even more entertainingly strange is the little folk-pop ditty, “Golden Pear”. The arrangement is more simplistic, but not the story. VanGaalen recounts a dream he had, where “there was a virtual drug load / She had a mermaid skeleton” living on the moon. From there, he “watched her eat a golden pear”. What this means, we have no clue, yet somehow we are immersed in her tale.
VanGaalen gets existential on “Nightwaves”. Using whatever instrument (a xylophone, a rummaging electric guitar) and household item (is that a kettle or glasses of water VanGaalen is tapping?) available, VanGaalen delivers a delirious, spacey, neo-psychedelic number . VanGaalen’s voice, too, is ghostly and almost mechanical. He’s like a new-age HAL-9000, asking us if our desire for information has been sated. “Is your machine calling to you now?”, he asks to everyone seeking the latest piece of news or like on their phones.
The album’s extraordinary oddness is brilliantly wrapped up on “Nightmare Scenario”. A subdued chaos fills the song’s first 70 seconds. The arrangements plod in multiple directions, and VanGaalen’s voice similarly throbs. This place is between reality and the dream world, where there are rolling hills and time-altering chambers. Then the song awakens into one hip-shaking, head-jerking rocker. VanGaalen has woken up from his dream, but he still is in a place of delirium.
“Passed out in the pouring rain
I’m going to float my brain
All the way downstream to the river!
I cashed out all my psychic pain
I’m going to focus my mind
And slowly unwind into the river!”
Maybe we should do exact this – let our minds float away within the sonic streams VanGaalen has laid out. The whole purpose of the album is one of escapism and finding a little humor in the weird yet wonderful. These have been strange times, even more so for the World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener, which for some reason we don’t think it’s VanGaalen. He’s merely the world’s most creative (and weirdest) storyteller.
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