Chad VanGaalen opens the vault

Chad VanGaalen
Last night, Fucked Up‘s The Chemistry of Common Life won the Polaris Prize. It wasn’t an entirely surprising choice, although I was rooting for Chad VanGaalen. His album, Soft Airplane, came out last September, and its seamless blend of experimental electronica and Neil Young-indebted folk pop made it both sonically adventurous and immediately accessible. It covered a broad range of styles, but seemed cohesive nonetheless, largely thanks to its structure. The songs were loosely arranged into three movements: it began with catchy pop rock, moved into heavier-hitting electro rock, and wrapped up with a series of mellow acoustic strummers (followed by a dissonant sound collage).

Last week, VanGaalen released Soft Airplane – B-Sides EP, a free download that compiles 9 outtakes from the album. It sounds more or less as you’d expect a collection of b-sides to sound, with sloppy arrangements are bizarre stylistic forays. Opening track “Stuffed Animal” features a glitch beat, warped vocals and sampled dog barks, coming off like VanGaalen’s own “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” (Radiohead‘s oddball electro track from Amnesiac). Track two, “Are You Sleeping?” pairs lo-fi keyboard blips with ramshackle acoustic guitars and lyrics cribbed from Modest Mouse‘s “Satin in a Coffin” (“Are you dead or are you sleeping?”).

After the first two tracks, however, things get more straightforward. “Soak in Visions” is based around simple blues guitar groove and high, quavering falsetto. “Twisting Magic Up” is a mid-tempo rocker that could have fit comfortably on Soft Airplane alongside “Old Man + the Sea” and “City of Electric Light.” “I Wish I Was a Dog” is a rumination on reincarnation that includes the lyric “I wish I was a poltergeist / Moving through solids and spying on lesbians.”

Although it’s usually clear why the songs were relegated to B-sides, the EP is nevertheless an effective reminder of the qualities that made Soft Airplane one of the best album of 2008. Head over to VanGaalen’s website to download it for free.
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