Chad VanGaalen

Soft Airplane

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Recorded in the two years following Skelliconnection using low fidelity equipment, specifically, a rustic tape deck and old JVC boom box, Chad VanGaalen's third record is as complex as ever, with all the bells and whistles (sometimes literally) that excessive overdubbing can provide. Brushing the textures aside, it's also VanGaalen's most straightforward album to date. While Skelliconnection was taken from over a hundred songs that he had stockpiled in his basement, causing the mood to jump around aimlessly from one genre extreme to another -- sometimes offering metal ("Flower Gardens") and at other times offering chilled-out electronica ("Red Hot Drops") -- Soft Airplane is a more focused outing; one that rarely travels outside the indie pop realm. Emotive boyish vocals and twee harmonies tinged with sadness spark the first few songs of the album, setting an easygoing and creative mood with organic, banjo and guitar-based tracks in the style of Cloud Cult, John Vanderslice, and the Shins. By the halfway point, electronics start to take precedent and analog synths and blippy drum machines steer the songs "Phantom Anthills" and "TMNT Mask" to danceable domains. It's doubtful these tracks will be used in an upbeat aerobic workout, though, with underlying themes of death spiraled throughout. At the most solemn moments, "Molten Light" is a sweetly sung, albeit creepy, tale of a supernatural woman seeking revenge from beyond the grave, while in the aching "Rabid Bits of Time," VanGaalen quietly proclaims, "No one knows where we go when we're dead or when we're dreaming," to end the stream of vocals with a decree that's as wondrous and innocent as his recording technique.

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