Under Review

Chad VanGaalen

Skelliconnection (Flemish Eye)

Review By Curtis Woloschuk

Having charmed Calgary crowds in clubs and on street corners for years, Chad VanGaalen discovered a larger audience with 2004’s Infiniheart. Gathered from an extensive back catalogue of home recordings, the debut disc offered an assemblage of intriguing curios from a songwriter with an idiosyncratic, if not entirely original approach to his craft. It’s odd to consider that the folk/found-sound melange that Beck revolutionized in the mid-90s could be rendered so quaint in the following decade. Yet there’s a distinctly nostalgic quality to VanGaalen’s tact.
Lending an idle ear, listeners might easily envision the multi-instrumentalist setting up shop on a tree-shaded cabin porch with an array of guitars, keyboards, banjos, samplers, harmonicas and drum machines. However, any sense of bucolic whimsy is rendered null and void by VanGaalen’s penchant for surrealist lyrics that evince his talents as a visual artist. While his past fantastical indulgences are reined in on Skelliconnection (there’s not a blood machine in sight), it’s clear that many dark and haunting muses lurk in the woods surrounding that imagined cabin of song.
“Flower Gardens” opens the album’s account with an uncharacteristic hail of wailing guitars and stuttered vocals. As a declaration of intent, it’s a decided step down from the twitchy appeal of Infiniheart’s masterful “Clinically Dead.” However, VanGaalen quickly rights his listing ship with the windmill pop hook of “Burn 2 Ash.” From there, the album flits between spacey ballads (“Rolling Thunder”), instrumental oddities (“Viking Rainbow”) and dustbowl stompers (“Wind Driving Dogs”).
The closing triumvirate of songs boasts Skelliconnection’s finest moments. Constructed around VanGaalen’s lilting falsetto, “Graveyard” is an affecting portrait of life’s final ceremony. Dynamic “Dead Ends” offers an anthemic assessment of an irreconcilable relationship. Finally, the fragile “Sing Me 2 Sleep” assuages and reconciles all earlier insecurities and tensions—specifically “Gubbbish’s” insolent refrain of “I’m never going to sleep.”
For all of its melodic inventiveness, there are instances when Skelliconnection proves inexplicably uninspiring and wilfully distancing. There’s certainly a wealth of talent of display here. However, a touch more cohesion and restraint may be required before VanGaalen emerges as an artist of true consequence.