Certain songwriters are perfectly content with sticking to the same style of songwriting, and essentially re-writing the same album for their entire careers. These people are not fans of Ďvariety,í Ďevolution,í or Ďbeing interesting.í It is what it is, though, and for every songwriter that fits that bland profile thereís one like Chad VanGaalen that brings a variety of influences to his musical palette, creating an album as submersive as it is diverse.
A veritable jack of all trades, VanGaalen again plays a variety of instruments: everything from guitar, to harmonica, to tambourine. Whatís more is that he can pull off each discipline as if itís the singular thing he needs to focus on for this album to be performed. Obviously far from the truth, but it sounds effortless on each of the albumís 15 tracks.
VanGaalenís songs can usually be lumped into one of two categories -- up-tempo or haunting. Simplistic as it sounds, heís actually able to incorporate a variety of melodies or instruments into whatever he does, but the ebb and flow is definitely such that it requires ample contribution from both of those categories. The back-and-forth is what fuels the record, and what keeps everyone listening pensively on their toes.
The wistful qualities found in ďRed Hot DropsĒ come across as more morose and down-trodden than anywhere else on the album, but manage to stay away from the trap of Ďsad bastardí music (no offense to Belle & Sebastian). The plaintive but yearning delivery accompanies the delicate musicianship with the emotion that instruments can just not offer, but even the programmed drum beats and tactful acoustic strumming is able to bring out some feeling. Heís able to do a lot with a little, and the country twang of "Wing Finger" is more than fitting to demonstrate. The striking honesty in both voice and mandolin (I think itís a mandolin, thereís no liner notes and I canít find out online -- so donít bitch) is by no means a rarity, but something about that song gives it some additional gravity. Part of it is the change in instrumental style, part of it is the execution, but itís surely one of the more impressive moments on the record.
If this album teaches anything, though, itís not to get too comfortable in one particular style.
Thatís because the dissonant swirls of ďBurn to AshĒ are there to remind you not to get settled into the groove. Itís always changing, always progressing, always throwing some new vocal inflection or group of instruments into the fray. VanGaalen is not content with settling into a routine, and his frequent music 180s, even in the middle of some songs, and it's to make sure that no one else settles into a routine either. It doesnít matter if itís discordant post-punk pulsating from the speakers or a much more demure acoustic ballad, itís imperative to be ready for anything.
Because itís anything you will get.