CHAD VANGAALEN: SHRINK DUST
Chad VanGaalen has proven he can do many things well: he is an in-demand animated video director, a budding animated film director, an illustrator, but it’s as a musician that VanGaalen has had the greatest impact on the artistic community. Two of his previous records were short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize and his last one, Diaper Island, was, for my money at least, the best Canadian album of 2011. His songs are as beautiful as they are beastly and no one genre ever over-stays its welcome. His entire catalogue of work has always walked a fine line between psychedelic rock and sensitive folk.
Shrink Dust effectively picks up where Diaper Island left off, only this time there is a steel guitar included in the mix, thus VanGaalen has termed this his “country album.” Much has been made about the steel guitar in the pre-release press, but longtime fans can relax, the instrument just compliments what has always been Chad’s stock and trade…he hasn’t gone all Waylon Jennings on us!
“Cut Off My Hands” starts the album off on a quiet note with only VanGaalen’s vocals and strums, but it’s his lyrical work that quickly becomes the focus with his animator’s imagination running wild with lines like: “Cut off both my hands and threw them in the sand / Watched them swim away like a pair of bloody crabs”.
Lead-off single “Where Are You?” is played in by a groovy psychedelic rhythm section and is slowly overtaken by the haunting vocal refrain that simply asks: where are you? A natural stand-out, “Where Are You?” is a VanGaalen track you want to dance to.
All through-out Shrink Dust there are easy references to Diaper Island; both albums had ethereal sounding lead singles (“Peace On The Rise” and “Where Are You?”); If Diaper Island’s beautiful ballad was “Sara”, then Shrink Dust’s is “Lila”; the former rocks out with “Burning Photographs”, while the latter thrashes to “Leaning On Bells”. This undoubtedly is why I am so happy to subject myself to repeated spins through Shrink Dust, because it sounds simply as if Diaper Island had been expanded into a double-album format.
Rarely, it seems, do we as a musical community value or celebrate an artist who has found his niche and continues to swim in familiar waters. Far too often there would seem to be voices crying that an artist is just treading water or rehashing older material, but in the case of Chad VanGaalen, this is precisely what I love. I cherish the fact that his last three albums sound as though they were recorded during the same session and that I can count on an equal number of both loud and quiet songs to help me through my day. Although the records sound like they come from the same place sonically, as VanGaalen the artist and man has grown, so has his songwriting. Bravo!
- Johnny Hooper