For starters, Mr. VanGaalen?s people might want to consider bitch-slapping whoever came up with the horribly unreadable graphics on the cover of his debut CD [guesses include his old friend, Ian Russell who originally released the disk last year on his Flemish Eye imprint and is credited with the ?layout.?] It took several squinty-eyed examinations to determine I wasn?t listening to the new album from some band called Chrovangarlen. There is no way those lug-headed slackers at your typical mega-mall record store are ever gonna be able to find this, which would be a shame because some of these songs are quite catchy and deserve a wide audience. The recordings date back 2-4 years and were selected from hundreds of recordings that VanGaalen recorded on a Tascam 4-track in his Calgary, Alberta bedroom. VanG opens with the catchy-yet-morbid ?Clinically Dead,? which sounds like an excerpt from Robert Smith?s diary ca. The Cure?s suicide trilogy (?Faith?/?17 Seconds?/?Pornography?).
As is typical with many bedroom solo recordings, the songs are musically all over the map. The cleverly-titled ?After the Afterlife? sounds like Beck and Neil Young got together to trade barbs and bonghits with lyrics like ?Tell me about your dad/And how he got you high/Did you like him stoned out?? immediately grabbing your attention. VanG assumes a bored, slacker/GenX attitude on the laugh riot, ?Kill Me In My Sleep,? a folky little acoustic dittie that filters Robert Smith?s flickering vocals on The Cure?s ?Caterpillar? through the Steely Dan-ish sensibilities of Sean O?Hagan and his High Llamas and features death by both pillow suffocation and throat-slitting. The most horrifying aspect of the song, however, is VanG?s deadpan recitation of the lyrics ? as if he were casually reading the details of some gruesome murder in his local newspaper.
The laughs just keep on coming with ?J.C.?s Head On The Cross,? a rumbling, funky percussive mass of electronic belches, glitches and soundbytes. The title comes from a barely-audible conversation with a little boy, who mentiones the title phrase in his discussion with, presumably, VanG. The gentle, acoustic ?Somewhere I Know There Is Nothing? is a romantic, nostalgic rumination on a long-lost love, and Neil Young?s vibrattoed falsetto infects the reduntantly-titled ?I Miss You Like I Miss You,? a nevertheless nimble-fingered, string-plucking softshoe with the occasional bluesy slide shuffle. It?s a surefire winner, particularly for fans of Young?s acoustic phase that yielded ?After The Gold Rush? and ?Harvest.? Elsewhere, ?1000 Pound Eyelids? is, as its title suggests, a swaying headnodder that intriguingly combines Matt Keating with Red House Painters, and the enigmatic ?Sunshine Snare Hits? demonstrates VanG?s dexterity on (as well as his ability to construct an entire song around) the slide guitar.
Overall, VanG needs to learn when to say ?when,? as too many of the tracks carry on with needlessly extended codas that employ electronics, strings, and keyboard flourishes (mostly on his home-made or modified instruments) that actually distract from the impact of the proper songs and leave listeners with the uncomfortable taste of ?filler? in their ears. Still, it?s a promising debut from a performer who, with the proper guidance of a producer who will reign in his tendencies toward excess, could provide us with exciting releases for years to come. Anyone who can successfully merge the varied sonic landscapes of Neil Young, The Cure and High Llamas is certainly worthy of your attention, and I understand he has subsequently recorded enough material for at least two more full lengths, so I can hardly wait to hear what he comes up with next. 8/10 -- Jeff Penczak (19 September, 2005)