Chad VanGaalen: Skelliconnection

Chad VanGaalen: Skelliconnection

B-

Chad Vangaalen

Album: Skelliconnection
Label: Sub Pop

Chad VanGaalen's first widely available disc, Infiniheart, was so shrouded in whispers and mist that it's a wonder the sounds ever escaped his Canadian bedroom. Compiled from hundreds of self-produced home recordings, the disc was one of last year's best—it quietly announced an incredibly subtle songwriter to the world at large. Skelliconnection—most of it, at least—suffers from restless legs: Instead of gathering another unassuming set of downer-pop, it kicks, bloops, bleeps, and occasionally charges, dropping back to the mellow moods only when it's otherwise exhausted. And when he's rollicking, VanGaalen doesn't save much room for the creaky refinement that characterizes his best songs.

Which isn't to say that there aren't any great songs—just that they're fewer and farther between. "Sing Me 2 Sleep" rides a humming acoustic bass, fingerpicked guitar, and VanGaalen's pretty, unaffected voice. Like his strongest moments, the song feels utterly breakable, like it could fall apart or shatter by just losing a little momentum. Likewise, "Wing Finger" hums like Iron & Wine, propelled by banjo and cracked vocals that convey weird sentiments that weightier songs just can't. What remains are experiments in fleshed-out songwriting. Some of them, like the Nick Drake-y "See-Thru-Skin," work, while some don't: The jarring album-opener "Flower Gardens" will probably scare most listeners who fell in love with Infiniheart. It's certainly no reason to give up on VanGaalen entirely; he's a terrific songwriter that, like many others, could use some focus. Then again, that might interfere with the process that got him this far.

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