Album Review: Chad VanGaalen – ‘Shrink Dust’

Perhaps one of Canada’s most prolific artists (with literally hundreds of releases under various titles), Chad VanGaalen is back with another album under his own name that certainly won’t disappoint long-time fans, and new listeners alike.
 
Shrink Dust begins with the soothing fingerpicked guitar of “Cut Off My Hands,” before we’re introduced to our first taste of VanGaalen’s new favourite instrument—the shimmering sound of the pedal steel guitar, which appears often to lend a strong traditional country vibe to the album. However, he doesn’t turn completely away from the classic VanGaalen layered production quality though, with sounds coming at you from every angle on the lead single (and accompanying animated video) “Where Are You,” providing a fine balance between an accessible pop song and its complex experimental sound composition outro section.
 

Chad VanGaalen – “Where Are You?”

After a couple more numbers delivering his signature expansive sound (“Frozen Paradise” and “Lila”), the ringing pedal steel sound returns on “Weighted Sin” and builds on this newfound country sound with a dark post-chorus balancing harmonica and guttural vibratoed guitar, stepping outside of his typical wheelhouse, but not feeling out of character at all. Songs like this and “Hangman’s Son” position VanGaalen as the natural successor to Neil Young, picking up right where Harvest Moon left off.

The highly fantastical imagery of “Monster” is a definite album highlight, detailing a transformative voyage into another life-form, and he makes it sound like a damn good time too. This massive-sounding chorus is one that I can’t wait to hear thousands of people singing along with during his recently announced appearance at the Calgary Folk Festival later this summer.

The sublime journey through VanGaalen’s imagination continues with the blissed-out sounds of “Evil,” while “All Will Combine” evokes memories of The Jefferson Airplane in its nuanced guitar tones, and the menacing drone intro of “Weird Love” settles into a lilting pace and allows the “Baby let your hair hang down” vibe to wash over you like the first grips of an acid trip.

 
Could Chad VanGaalen become our generation’s Brian Wilson? A reclusive genius emerging periodically to deliver his latest masterpiece before disappearing again to continue with the next project? 
 
With the immense creative output VanGaalen has sustained both under multiple musical monikers, and a variety of artistic disciplines over more than a decade, one could argue he’s already there.
 
Tyler Stewart

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