Category Archives: music

Music Review: Light Information – Chad VanGaalen

AlbumCover

To say I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Chad VanGaalen’s newest album, Light Information, would be an understatement. Being a long time fan of VanGaalen’s unique indie rock sound and generally unimpressed with most musical releases of 2016 and 2017, my hopes for this album have been set very high. I had the vinyl + digital copy for this album on pre-order through Flemish Eye (a small Canadian record label) but unfortunately it hadn’t arrived by the time I had started typing up the review. In the meantime I used Google Music’s copy of it but I waited on uploading this so I could include images from the vinyl. For this review I will first examine the art, listen through the entire album once and then listen a second time as per usual.

Album Art

The album art suits VanGaalen’s sound but I can’t say it’s an album cover that I would be showing off to my friends as something different and memorable. I get the feeling this album will have more of a space-y sound to it and that the grotesquely beautiful world that he creates in every song.

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Tracks

Light Information opens up to “Mind Hijacker’s Curse”It starts the album with an upbeat indie rock track with a synth melody playing alongside the bassline. The catchy poppy instrumentals are accompanied by rather dark lyrics that draw you further into the album. Seamlessly, the album transitions to “Locked In A Phase” featuring a strong guitar riff that builds off of the first track and the lyrics call back to imagery of the album cover with lines like, “Come sit in the fire, ’til you believe it”.

I don’t think anything could really prep a listener for the third track which opens with the eerie playing of a couple different piano keys in a very structured beat. It is a strange addition to the album, as track 3/12. “Prep Piano + 770” is heavier on the synth than in the first track. It really is an unsettling track and gives a very “2001: A Space Odyssey” feel. A bit hopeless, very sci-fi and never ending.

Abandoning the eerie piano, “Host Body” wastes no time jumping into a psychedelic track with lyrics that remind me of ones found particularly on his Soft Airplane album. The next two songs on the album feel like throw backs to other albums of his as well. While “Mystery Elementals” is a catchy rockbeat that I feel would appeal to anyone who loved the Shrink Dust album. “Old Heads” reminds me a lot of Diaper Island which if anyone asks – it is one of his more under-rated albums. These three songs could really make or break this album depending on how much you like musical nostalgia.

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Screen grab from the “Pine and Clover” music video. Animated and directed by Chad VanGaalen.

“Golden Oceans” is a faster paced more surf-rock song. A couple listens in I’m not sure how I feel about this track but it seems like one that would be a lot of fun live. So I will reserve judgement a bit on this one.

The following song is a laid-back indie tune which shows some subtle progression on the core sound VanGaalen is known for. “Faces Lit” is very much a more refined tune and the fine tuning and tweaks that are the result of his many years of experience no doubt.

The very first track I heard off of this album was the next track, “Pine and Clover”. At first I was a bit concerned that that this album wouldn’t be to my tastes even with a colourful and artistic music video. Now that I have heard this song more times than I can count, it has grown on me. It is hard to put my finger on exactly what of it didn’t appeal to me the first few times.

In the last stretch of the album, the album slows down with “You Fool” and “Broken Bell”Both songs have a sadder, retrospective feel to them. A very appropriate feel for the end of an album and contrast to the synthesised opening tracks.

“Static Shape” closes out the album on a slightly more upbeat track. I can see this mellow track being a show closer as well. The highlight of this track is definitely the vocal effects. This isn’t to say that the song is predictable by any means though. The mixture of different sounds from start to finish is a nice collection of the previous tracks and finishes with jarring sounds that fizzle out.

Top Tracks

“Locked in a Phase”, “Host Body”, “Pine and Clover” and “Faces Lit”

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Final Impression

8.5/10

I know it’s absolutely no fault of VanGaalen’s or Flemish Eye for the delivery of the vinyl so I won’t be judging the album on shipping speed.

Light Information is a solid addition to VanGaalen’s discography and takes you on a guitar and synth driven journey. From the lyrics to the instrumentals, it is an album that is sure to appeal to most long time fans. Some new sounds are experimented with in this album too that show the ever changing sound of his content. For me, an ideal album contains 10+ songs and Light Information hits that ideal with a healthy 12 tracks and a run time of approximately 40 minutes. The artwork on both sides of the vinyl sleeve was more of a pleasant surprise than anything and much different from the simple gold, black or white sleeve I was expecting. The clear vinyl is a unique touch and I believe is exclusive to pre-orders or simply in a very limited supply.

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Music Review: RELAXER – Alt-J

alt-J - Relaxer (2017)

Within hours of the official release there were people placing their reviews on the third studio album by Alt-J. I’ve tried to avoid reading too much and have taken the past day or so to judge the album fairly. What reviews I have heard of definitely were very mixed, yet I couldn’t get a physical copy of the CD in store. So this is based off of my digital copy.

Album Art

I saw the cover art for RELAXER about two months ago and started to get the feeling that this album would be taking different route. The cover imagery is very clearly digitally rendered and features the pixelated bloodpool of a man (humanoid?) on a road. This picture is surrounded by a thick black border which really stands out in comparison to the colourfulness of An Awesome Wave and This Is All Yours. Trying to get a bit more of a feel on what to expect I went to the band’s site and found a game. If you explore around this trippy landscape a bit you can find pictures of the band, links to tracks, samples and unusual scenes. In general, it is a bit unsettling – RELAXER without a doubt was not going to be a repeat of the previous albums.

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One of the places in the game with writing on the walls.

Tracks

I really liked the opening track, 3WW”, when it was uploaded in March and I still like it now. The song and video are very much what you’d expect out of an Alt-J tune so you don’t need to do a double take of what you are listening to. I have to admit, this track made me feel like maybe I was wrong about this album being as different as I was anticipating.

“In Cold Blood” has a lot more energy to it and will definitely be a great one to hear live. It incorporates every element of an Alt-J hit – lalas and repeated words included. However, I did notice toward the end there is a very video game-esque synth playing scales. I’m honestly surprised this wasn’t the first single off of the album.

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Released as more promotional content with the single.

The third track is “House of the Rising Sun” and I can’t say it’s a track I ever expected the band to cover. The video game styled synth carries into this track quietly to make a somber but dreamy rendition of the classic song. The symphony of strings feels like it is lulling you into a gentle sleep.

“Hit Me Like That Snare” is by far the riskiest track on the album. It is rough, punky and sounds like a track your local college band would write. “Hit Me Like That Snare” does provide some more insight into why the particular album art was chosen and although, not my personal favourite on the album, I appreciate the experimentation into new sounds.

“Deadcrush” pulls everything into the classic Alt-J sound and sounds reminiscent of This Is All Yours. After listening to a few times and looking a bit more into some recent interviews, this track was actually written around the time of that album. Given the prominence of the darker bass beat in the song, I can see how it would just be a little out of place if put on the same album as “Nara” and “Pusher”.

Track six is another very familiar sounding song and opens with beautiful harmonies and tells a story of a tasmanian devil who falls in love with a woman. “Adeline”, for all its familiar sounds and story telling is a creeping into something new for the band. This track also features an adapted melody from Hans Zimmer’s Thin Red Line soundtrack!

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Screen grab from the official audio upload of Adeline.

 “The Last Year” is an apologetically sad track. What makes it so sad? It is about the narrator’s descent into depression and death with a guest vocalist singing at the funeral. I couldn’t find anything on if this is directly related back to an event in Gus Unger-Hamilton’s life. Although the track is very tragic, it conveys feelings of yearning and heartbreak.

The final track, “Pleader”, rounds out the album and is a symphonic mixture of all the sounds featured on the album. From the sad guitar and ominous organ to drawn out strings and choir harmonies, it makes for a suitable closer. I am curious to see if this song is a true reflector as to where the band’s sound is going.

Top tracks

“In Cold Blood”“The Last Year” and “Pleader:

Final Impression

8/10

The tracks unfortunately didn’t flow together as nicely as their prior albums and left it feeling like it was put on shuffle, it just didn’t feel like it was organized in a specific way. My only major conflictions are “House of the Rising Sun” and “Hit Me Like That Snare”I would have preferred on an 8-track album for there to be more original music and the sound of the second track just didn’t grow on me. As that track said though – “F*** you, I’ll do what I want to do”, so touche Alt-J.

From the lack of flow to the album, it’s obvious that a lot of different ideas and thoughts are being tossed back and forth. To me, RELAXER is a stepping-stone for something new and that is exciting. One of the hardest things to do is to attain success and break away from that sound in order to grow further as artists – it is so easy to just do the same thing again and again. Overall, I thought this album was good and the parts that did work, out weighed the bad. I am excited for when they start releasing more tracks of where this new sound is headed.