By JENNIFER KELLY
While working on Shrink Dust, Chad Vangaalen was also elbow-deep in drawing an animated sci-fi feature called Translated Log of Inhabitants. The film’s surreal images — pitched nicely between whimsy and nightmare — seem to have crept into this fifth full-length. It opens with the Grimm’s fairy tale worthy line, “Cut off both my hands/and threw them in the sand/watched them swim away from me like a pair of bloody crabs” and winds through bestiaries (“Monster”), giant spider webs (“Evil”) and end-of-times mythology (“Cosmic Destroyer”).
The weirdness seeps, too, into the album’s echo-cavern sound palette, with home-recorded noise-ghosts hovering just out of view and Vangaalen’s tremulous tenor wheeling and fluttering in wide arcs around folk melody. The songwriter picked up a pedal steel guitar just before laying these songs to track, and it also lends a gothic country miasma to the album, especially in “Weighed Sin” and “Hangman’s Son.”
The two best songs shade towards rattling, revenant garage rock. “Where Are You?” lurches zombie-like through bottom-of-the-well sonics, bony-figures extended, grave clothes worn to threads. It’s like a cross between Kid Congo and Roy Orbison, but with a lot of interesting textures woven in — a video-game keyboard riff, a cheerful penny whistle turned sour. “Monster” is cleaner, but just as strange, its folky strums and ramshackle drums wrapped around a truly bizarre storyline of a man who wakes up misshapen and not even necessarily human.
I love the weirdness of this album, both for its own sake and for the way it seems to free Vangaalen from the structures and constraints of indie folk. These songs take off best when they are least tied to the ordinary. A free-form lyrical approach leads Vangaalen into phantasmically beautiful byways, with both the music and the words floating up and away.
DOWNLOAD: “Where Are You?” “Monster”