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First Play: Chad VanGaalen, Light Information

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Melody Lau

Editor’s note: lyrics contain profanity.

There’s a thrill to hitting play on a new Chad VanGaalen album that never goes away. Now on his sixth album, entitled Light Information, the Calgary artist delivers some familiar elements. For instance, the ramshackle cacophony of sounds that somehow coalesce into a catchy melody, or the rich lyrics that are almost always musings on death, isolation or disembodiment. (VanGaalen’s vivid take on body horror has always been on par with some of the best filmmakers of this genre.) Where the excitement lies, though, is in the structure and delivery of these songs.

VanGaalen’s music has taken on many forms, using a variety of instruments including some DIY, but something immediately becomes clear upon hearing Light Information’s opening track, “Mind Hijacker’s Curse.” These are some of the singer-songwriter’s most direct pop songs yet.

The guitar riffs, punchy synths and atmospheric flourishes still remain, but VanGaalen has put a stronger focus on melodies here, with his voice cutting through more sharply on tracks like “Old Heads” and “Faces Lit.” (Perhaps this was inspired by his time producing Toronto band Alvvays’ pristine pop debut in 2014.) His voice doesn’t stay in focus the entire time, but when it does, the hooks hit with precision and leave a lasting impression. Even when he veers into something completely different, such as the instrumental “Prep Piano And 770,” which seems perfectly tailored for a Nicolas Winding Refn film, there’s a method behind VanGaalen’s madness. The track, more than anything, serves as a prelude to the psychotropic “Host Body,” a song that’s fairly reflective of VanGaalen’s older records.

Added to the mix is an anxiety created from watching his kids grow up. “Being a parent has given me a sort of alternate perspective, worrying about exposure to a new type of consciousness that’s happening through the internet,” he says in a press release. “I didn’t have that growing up, and I’m maybe trying to preserve a little bit of that selfishly for my kids.” This gives him some more perspective on being a son, too, as he sings about his dad on “Broken Bell”: “I should really visit him before he is dead/ cuz we are getting old/ our cells just won’t divide like they told us/ but I’m not really good at this kind of thing.” While he may have his concerns about things, he has definitely proven that he is great at synthesizing these thoughts into wondrous songs.

Light Information will be released on Sept. 8 via Flemish Eye in Canada and Sub Pop for the rest of the world. You can pre-order it here. Check Chad VanGaalen's tour dates here.