Chad VanGaalen - Shrink Dust (3 stars)

Self-proclaimed country album from Calgary's astral-rock artisan

Chad VanGaalen - Shrink Dust

(Sub Pop)

Picture this. Two small, prying hands growing out of your shoulders, ripping your eyelids wide apart, provoking untold confusion and pain, and all to a groovy psych-pop beat. Welcome to the surreal province of Chad VanGaalen, where such events unfold on 'Monster', a track at the heart of the astral-rock artisan's fifth long-player Shrink Dust.

Perhaps the aforesaid skewed Americana opus is a homage to VanGaalen's bygone plans to erect a giant grinning monster head on the roof of his Calgary, Alberta home. Or perhaps it's an extension of that same notion, rendered in song form; an illustration of the ways in which VanGaalen's ever-evolving, divergent art forms – films/ graphics/music/physical creations – have bled through, fed off and morphed into each other for 15 years or so.

Shrink Dust was composed in part as a score to VanGaalen's ongoing science fiction endeavour Translated Log of Inhabitants and, as such, it's suitably fuelled by celestial wayfaring, clattering alien chorales and sci-fi dystopia (he cites Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius' 1980s comic book series, The Incal, as an influence). But this is also VanGaalen's self-proclaimed country album. It tips its hat to the Flying Burrito Brothers, and its sun-blinded arias are underpinned by pedal steel – the latest in a line of instruments he's chosen to modify and master.

Variously navigating themes of mortality, terror, mutation and love, and orbiting the harmonious likes of Bright Eyes, Sufjan Stevens, The Flaming Lips and The Beatles (not for nothing is his studio entitled Yoko Eno), Shrink Dust has several high points, including the brass swathes and retro country-psyche of 'All Will Combine', the spindly Neil Young balladry of 'Hangman's Son', the spluttering, pop-fried electro-murk of 'Frozen Paradise', and the warm distortion of recent single 'Where Are You' – a glam-flecked grunge stomp that nails VanGaalen's knack for exploratory pop; for travelling, wide-eyed, between worlds.

Chad VanGaalen - Where Are You?

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