Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust

CVG_ShrinkDustLPJacket_Working Well this is apparently not his best album by any means – so say my Chad VanGaalen-loving friends at least. Funnily enough, though, this is actually the first of his albums I’ve actually sat down with properly and listened through to and my perspective is probably a bit different from theirs.

I’ve heard the name around for ages, of course, although actually he’s only been releasing albums as long as I’ve been back in Scotland (although that’s probably a far longer time than I care to admit). Even this album has been out for months now, I just got it late because I ordered it with a bunch of other things and rather foolishly selected the ‘ship when everything is ready’ option.

I’ve only listened back to his older stuff very briefly since getting this, and I suppose this does sound a bit smoother and less awkward than some of the earlier recordings. Normally I would complain about this, but I haven’t really had time to listen to the older albums properly so I don’t have that slightly weird allegiance which is so easy to develop to earlier incarnations of someone’s sound.

The only reason I bought this album, actually, is because Meursault did an absolutely brilliant cover of Rabid Bits of Time on their last release, The Organ Grinder’s Monkey, and so when I saw this was coming out I thought fuck it, why not have a go.

And fuck the purists, this is brilliant. I suppose I had no real expectations (apart from a curious half-idea that it might be a bit like Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards, which is total balls) so I guess I was listening with a pretty blank slate, which is often quite a hard thing to achieve.

At times this embraces lo-fi singer-songwriter stuff, but there is plenty more to come and go, moving the album around nicely. It can be glum and morose, it can be droney and bit unpleasant, and Leaning on Bells is a raucous, old-fashioned garage rocker. But then some of the most euphoric songs have this gorgeous choral feel in the, erm, well in the choruses, and it allows the record to drift from tense, to introspective, to grumbly, and yet still be able to lift itself into something supremely uplifting and lovely here and there when it wants to.

The fact that the chorus of one of these beautifully uplifting tunes is simply “I’m a monster” is something I’ll just gloss over, I think. Weighted Sin is another song which sounds absolutely gorgeous but tells a tale of rather brutal self-judgment. I know from Rabid Bits of Time not to expect breezy, trivial lyrics, I suppose, and I think I need a bit more time to settle into every song on the album in that sense, but it’s something I will certainly be taking the time to do.

It may take a bit more attention lyrically, but in a musical sense this is far more immediate. Whilst the old fans might find it displeasingly smooth compared to past work (at least, I am guessing that’s what they’re unimpressed with – I can’t think of anything else), for me that made it easier to get into. Hell, there’s even clarinet in the first song, in amongst the disturbed swirling of, well, whatever it is making that noise.

Compared to my thus-far superficial skims through earlier stuff, it doesn’t, I suppose, have that sense of aggravation. I mean, that’s still there, but the music seems fuller and less hesitant and unsure of itself, which perhaps makes this feel a little more purposeful and accessible, but I guess I’ll know more when I go back and listen properly. For now I am perfectly happy getting to know Shrink Dust entirely on its own merits, because it’s a fantastic album. It doesn’t exactly scare you, and it’s not bleak or miserable exactly, but there is plenty of that in there, and the mixture of this stuff and the gentler, more soothing stuff keeps you on your toes throughout.

So, if it’s apparently not his best album, I think I’m going to have some fun finding out which one is!

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