It's hard to find an artist who can show noticeable growth without losing their musical character. Many seem to mistake developing their sound for choosing the latest, coolest producer to morph their music into what the kids want to play on their turntables and iPods, leaving the result somewhat empty and fake. Calgary's prolific homebody Chad VanGaalen has managed to defy the odds with his third release Soft Airplane producing an effort that shows definite maturity without losing his signature quirk.
"Cries of the Dead" features a quaint and endearing groove made up of rim clicks and hits on random metal, setting the stage for gradual building of vibraphone and picked guitar strings. Morbid lyrics like, "I can hear the cries of the dead / Maybe it's your neighbour, beating his dog in the basement" make for an unassuming, yet haunting track that one listens to casually, until being gripped by the underlying sinister message.
A fantastic counterpoint is found in "Poisonous Heads" as VanGaalen takes advantage of bass-driven riffs accentuated by muffled tom drums and dirty, stadium ready guitars, freshened by airy whistles behind his vocals. He takes his versatility further with the more electronica-influenced "TMNT Mask" skillfully melding drum machine beats with minor chord keyboards to make a mostly digital track that somehow still comes off as feeling organic.
Those who have heard Chad VanGaalen can identify one of his albums within seconds of listening. With Soft Airplane, VanGaalen has managed to produce something undeniably him, but with refinements that show extremely thoughtful improvements in what makes his music so memorable.