After 2005's reissued Infiniheart Sub Pop put out the second full length from this Canadian folk/rock/synth/indie kid who also did all the album art work and - if you haven't guessed already, it's quite eclectic.
It's such a gift when you get to review a record that has obvious sources of influence, you just bang on about that and don't really have to form any of your own opinions. So when I first heard Slelliconnection I dreaded the review as I was probably going to have to do some thinking and I hate doing that. Sure it has some comparisons but none of them are obvious enough to base a review on. So I'll get them out of the way first then if there's time I will do some thinking.
Vangaalen's use of low-tech synthasisers and plinky-plonky keyboards instantly brings to mind the work of the late Grandaddy. In fact this comparison crops up a few times with Chad's voice sometimes taking on the soft, sensitive hush of Jason Lytle. It has the inventiveness of The Flaming Lips and the delicate banjo folk of Sufjan Stevens.
The main thing to remember about Skelliconnection is not to judge it until it is finished. It spans so many different genres from the heavy riffage of the opening track Flower Garden to the gentle folk of Wing Finger with some fantastic little instrumental ditties thrown in, the best one being Viking Rainbow. Rumour has it that a lot of the sounds we hear on this album come from home made instruments. This is very evident on Viking Rainbow with its primitive, clunking, synth beats and, heavy drumming and distorted melodies.
The inventiveness and shear scope of this record are definitely what make it good but they also become its undoing. After the opening three tracks the album drifts into no man's land and loses its way amid experimentation, genre hopping and lazy repetitive lyrics. It doesn't seem to specialise in anything and so is in danger of being slightly unmemorable. Thankfully it finds its direction again with the fantastic Graveyard. It's a slow building folk masterpiece that begs to go on for a lot longer than it does. It is then followed by Dead Ends, the records summit both in grandeur and intensity. Here Vangaalen really lets us have it, giving Roy Orbison a run for his money. It's almost as if THE Bruce Dickinson has instructed him to "really explore the space here". Thank god he doesn't have a cowbell.
So to sum up, this is a piece of work that is by no means perfect but demands respect. In a world where originality is hard to find artists like Chad Vangaalen are essential, and after the recent Sufjan Stevens offering its nice to hear a folk singer that's willing to grow some balls and mix things up a bit. It doesn't always work but at least he tried.