Chad VanGaalen - Skeliconnection (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Chad VanGaalen

Skeliconnection (2006)

Sub Pop

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 ‘variety,' ‘evolution,' or ‘being interesting.' It is what it is, though, and for every songwriter that fits that bland profile there's 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. What's more is that he can pull off each discipline as if it's 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 album's 15 tracks.

VanGaalen's songs can usually be lumped into one of two categories -- up-tempo or haunting. Simplistic as it sounds, he's 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 "Red Hot Drops" come across as more morose and down-trodden than anywhere else on the album, but manage to stay away from the trap of ‘sad bastard' 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. He's 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 it's a mandolin, there's no liner notes and I can't find out online -- so don't 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 it's surely one of the more impressive moments on the record.

If this album teaches anything, though, it's not to get too comfortable in one particular style.

That's because the dissonant swirls of "Burn to Ash" are there to remind you not to get settled into the groove. It's 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 doesn't matter if it's discordant post-punk pulsating from the speakers or a much more demure acoustic ballad, it's imperative to be ready for anything.

Because it's anything you will get.