Chad VanGaalen - Infiniheart (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Chad VanGaalen

Infiniheart (2005)

Sub Pop

There's been some discretion as of late to just what the word "diversity" actually means. One popular school of thought is that diversity is in fact an old wooden ship. That is by far the most intelligent conclusion I've heard concerning the matter, but a lot of lesser educated people would probably try and tell you that diversity could be a group of people, each coming from various religious, ethnic, and social backgrounds. Ha, fools. It's only regarding music that those from the second school of thought actually have some solid ground to stand on, and it's releases like recent Sub Pop signee Chad VanGaalen's Infiniheart that truly test the bounds of musical diversity.

A folk record at heart, the sixteen songs here allow for VanGaalen to fuse together more elements than most full bands even bother attempting. What's more is, it works flawlessly. These lo-fi, low-tempo recordings allow for a very spacey, subtle, free-form musical style, where everything stands out but no one element takes over the flow. The songs often take on a life of their own, careening in between woeful acoustic-backed moments, fuzz-driven guitars, and tons of ambient textures. The free-form lack of structures allows for some truly adventurous moments in an album that you wouldn't guess to have them.

VanGaalen's voice never really deviates from its wistful, dreamy style, but it's the plethora of instrument inclusion here that really gives the record character. "I Miss You Like I Miss You" has some twangy strumming that could come from either a banjo or mandolin, and helps to give a sly, Southern feel to the recording. "Kill Me In My Sleep" traverses through its six minutes of song amidst some clicking beats, bass grooves, and quiet guitar plucking with a mixture that's as fluid as anything else on the album, despite the awkwardness in the variety the song brings to the table. "Echo Train" has more of a traditional rock kick to it, with distorted vocals harmonizing over even more distorted guitars, as this is probably the album's loudest few minutes. As loud or soft as the guitars and harmonies become, VanGaalen never separates the vocals from the music enough to lose sight of the song's original intention. He sounds at home no matter the instruments that surround him, or the tempos at which they are played.

Most of this record's beauty lies in its use of old wooden ships, and it continues right up until "Traffic" closes the album with VanGaalen singing above a repeated mixture of bass drum and guitar. Through all the channeling of various styles, this remains a very personal record, and the lyrics are well suited to whatever music is presenting them. They're clever and biting, but sung in such a way that the teeth aren't even felt; "We must've fucked up the car real good because I can't feel anything at all / I'm super sorry but my eyes got really heavy / and the last thing I remember is your smile"VanGaalen notes in "1,000 Pound Eye Lids," which offers a look at a car crash post-mortem.

Infiniheart is able to evolve several times over through the course of the record, while maintaining a strong and effective base that carries the musical and lyrical themes right through to the end. VanGaalen is a jack of all trades, playing at least 13 different instruments through the course of the record, all the while molding together ambient soundscapes, fuzzy Built To Spill-esque guitars, light, dreamy vocals, and strong lyrical matter. The result is a sophomore effort stronger than Sex Panther cologne could ever be, but without clearing an entire newsroom.