After a decade in the business and with seven full-lengths under his belt, Chad VanGaalen is starting to show his wear. The Canadian indie rocker has been a darling in certain circles for an age so any new material is normally a cause for celebration. Sadly, his latest LP, Light Information, is pretty by the numbers stuff; a record with a handful of quite nice moments and interludes that are primarily punctuated by stretches of tedium. The man can spin up a very fine tune when he needs to and knows how to twist in a hook in such a way as to give it all a bit of life, but the difficulty here is that he seems to be twisting other artists’ work with minor input from himself. Additionally, some of the deviations are cloying and simply don’t work. Mostly, this 12 song collection feels fairly tried and tired. There is this unmistakable sense of being out of time and not in a timeless manner. Large swathes of the album end up sounding like a time capsule for 2008.
One of the central faults of the album is the lack of an identity. Only a small amount of this album belongs solely to VanGaalen. He leans heavily on his influences which, while not necessarily an issue, amounts to a dependence rather than an inspiration. The opener, ‘Mind Hijacker’s Curse’, is a fairly obvious candidate for this. From the word go, the music immediately evokes Turn On The Bright Lights-era Interpol and once the voice arrives, all that comes to mind is Brandon Flowers. From this point on, we veer into a sort of deep cut The Killers track. To his credit, he has written a damn fine Killers song; one that is possibly better than anything those boys have put out in a decade. But the problem is that once you begin hearing the LP through this filter, you can’t stop. There are cuts belonging to Ty Segall (‘Golden Oceans’), Modest Mouse (‘Broken Bell’) and Hotel Yankee Foxtrot-era Wilco (‘Static Shape’). Without any sliver of personality to act as a counterpoint, these cuts feel like they’re directly aping rather than paying homage. By the end, the only thing we can actually say about VanGaalen is that he profoundly loves indie rock from 10 years ago.
Divorcing ourselves from this perspective – albeit with great difficulty – the collection still doesn’t stand on its own two feet. It feels weird in this incredibly self-conscious way. The kind of aloofness that appears more neckbeard than mysterious. A big source of this is the lyrics, which slide into an unfortunate crassness involving semen.
Light Information isn’t entirely without merit though. There’s genuinely interesting and quirky melodies and dynamic shifts buried in here. ‘Faces Lift’, ‘Host Body’ and ‘Old Heads’ all have these nuggets of magic in them. Also while his songwriting owes a great deal to others, he’s come up with intriguing spins on their back catalogs.
This album is attempting a lot but achieving little. While you have to commend the earnest effort, but with movement in so many directions it’s hard to ascertain if we’re ever that far from where we started. Chad VanGaalen seems to be trying here, but sadly all it is is trying. Will Murphy