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Chad VanGaalen - Skelliconnection

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Artist: Chad VanGaalen

Album: Skelliconnection

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Sep. 3, 2006

The follow up to Chad VanGaalen's blog-obsessing Infiniheart is a discontinuous, but eccentrically charming affair. The Calgary busker made good last year on the strength of his wavering, affected voice, laced with strange sounds from home-made instruments. Like the debut, Skelliconnection was drawn from a stock of hundreds of basement-taped songs – VanGaalen had apparently recorded two albums worth of new material in the interim between his first album on Sub Pop and the one you're reading about right now. As a result, there's a fair bit of stylistic diversity, and the record can be somewhat hard to follow as VanGaalen flits from punk rock distortion to psyche-electronica to Neil Young ballads. Constructing an album out of such disparate elements must have been a challenge, and while VanGaalen clearly worked on the transitions, Skelliconnection feels more like a series of singles and EPs rather than one statement.

The album starts big, with two "Hey, I'm not just a sensitive guy with a guitar" rockers. "Dead Flowers" feels especially defiant, its noodling keyboard giving way to buzzsaw guitars and a stuttered chorus. Next is the somewhat less strident "Burn 2 Ash,” where staccato new wave guitars pulse and blossom into soaring pop choruses; it's the b-side to VanGaalen's rock single

The middle portion of Skelliconnection is an electro-folk hodgepodge – there's "Red Hot Drops," the wispy but lovely "Rolling Thunder,” and the bass-driven, claustrophobic "Gubbbish," with its refrain of "I'm never going to sleep." It's the album's first foray into VanGaalen's experimental, altered-instrument side; he started reconfiguring clarinets and keyboards in high school shop class and by now has accumulated a museum's worth of tweaked sound makers. The organ and drum-machines burble to life on "Viking Rainbow," and “Dandruff” references some oddly-tuned free jazz.

All this is fine, but the album really hits its stride in its second half, starting with "Wing Finger," where VanGaalen's high, watery voice weaves around banjos, organs and whistles. He starts to sound more and more like Neil Young as the album progresses, and the final section peaks with "Dead Ends," some serious seething pop psychedelia. When the chorus hits and VanGaalen soars above the song like Roy Orbison, singing "Here we are again," it's as shocking and out of character as the album's early punk forays, but much more successful. Hopefully, this is a sign VanGaalen has left his bedroom for good and is ready for the outside world, where things only get stranger.

By Jennifer Kelly

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