Chad VanGaalen: Skelliconnection

Chad VanGaalen
(Sub Pop)

SOUND! SOUND! SOUND! That was my first reaction to this album by VanGaalen, which was culled from a library of about 100 songs. While there is an exceptional quality to the songs here (musically, they’re great! construction- and execution-wise), where the album dries up is in its lack of attention to thematic and lyrical detail. It sounds pretty—and don’t get me wrong, his quirkiness is understated just enough to make this an enjoyable listen—but at the end of Skelliconnection, listeners will find that they have no concept of what drove the album theoretically. It conveys no really consistent message and lacks a complete, cohesive, artistic argument—its own artistic voice.

Many times, VanGaalen sounds like a hipper Neil Young. And while that could be considered praise for many musicians, there’s a feeling that VanGaalen sells himself short when you weigh his ability to craft such perfectly poppy gems. Songs like “Wing Finger” benefit and collapse under themselves for the same reason. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the song. Quite the contrary, it’s mixed well, sung well, played well, and constructed well. So why am I bitching? It lacks one of the most important aspects for anyone creating a piece of work: motive. In other words, the lyrics seem to let the songs down.

While they are not unbearable, they add nothing to the music itself. Most fall unwittingly to the floor as a series of sentences leading the listener nowhere. There’s no culmination of an idea. There’s no overriding image. There’s no sense that these songs were written to actually say anything. And while they may sound gloriously well-constructed, it’s hard for the listener to get too involved when the writer isn’t interested himself.