Review Summary: Homegrown indie artist builds something beautiful from nothing much.
Chad VanGaalen is one of those artists who gives me a great amount of hope for my own musical aspirations due to his own accomplishments; constructing his own instruments and techniques while recording everything from the ground up himself, VanGaalen's Infiniheart
was actually getting around on homemade compact discs after he recorded the entire version rereleased here (along with even more tracks which have subsequently been cut) in his own room years ago. Undoubtebly, Sub Pop caught wind of VanGaalen's gorgeous and infectual music one way or another and signed him, rearranging the album for a much wider release. It is promising to any musician toiling away in their rooms with a guitar and mic and burning CDs of their own music to hear and witness what VanGaalen essentially did himself, without the aid of a contract or studio. And that's no understatement, everything on Infiniheart
really does come down to VanGaalen; all of the tracks found here haven't even been touched up, only slightly rearranged. Even the artwork is his (VanGaalen has a successful history in animation and illustration).
Given that information, it is especially astonishing what VanGaalen has crafted while sitting in his room. The sounds here are amazing, smattered with rhythmic acoustic guitar, coalescing effect-ridden electric guitar noodlings, solid percussion work that sometimes utilizes drum machines and is perhaps better off for it, and last but not least, beautiful harmonized vocals that feel as insightful as they do sincere. VanGaalen crafts whole soundscapes out of the simplest of techniques, whether it be reversing a drum line or melody, or giving a guitar a booming unnatural tone. His strength lies not only in basic songwriting but in amazing arrangements seemingly built off of taking simple ides and screwing with them endlessly. There are so many interesting things going on that listeners will notice countless new ideas upon repeated listenings.
"Clinically Dead" and "Echo Train" were the singles and it's easy to see why: both feature stripped-down verses which give way to anthemic, booming guitar choruses featuring VanGaalen's almost meek voice riding atop them. These songs are definitely great but by no means represent VanGaalen's greatest strengths; his flair for catchy melodies is not near as important as his ability to use said melodies in a decidedly quirky and beautiful fashion. "Kill Me in My Sleep" and "After the Afterlife" both show his love for experimentation, featuring ambient guitar-laden endings that compliment their main passages very effectively. "Blood Machine" features tribal percussion and ominous, apocalyptic lyrics that create an amazing mood. "Build a Home Like a Bee" is easily the most gorgeous piece here (perhaps rivalled only by "Somewhere I Know There Is Nothing"); at just over two minutes you're left wishing it were more like five.
The last half is promising but it is difficult to live up to such a high standard set by the first half. "I Miss You Like I Miss You" and "Sunshine Snare Hits" are beautiful little slices of folkiness, "Red Blood" almost lives up to the dark vibe of "Blood Machine" with it's dirgy falsettos, and "Liquid + Light" and "Warp Zone" both reflect the quirkiness of the first few songs admirably. But tracks like "1000 Pound Eyelids" and "Traffic" do slow things down a bit too much, almost dragging along and not giving us much to listen to that's interesting. The album still feels cohesive and these songs are by no means bad, just a letdown in comparison to the other work here.
All in all, Infiniheart
ends up being a steady piece of expiremental indie pop and in my opinion sets VanGaalen in a league of his own. This music is incredibly original and definitely stands out, giving VanGaalen something he can work off of and strive for. It's questionable what being on a major label will do for him since Infiniheart
is a solid album built from the ground up; hopefully success won't spoil the potential shown here, and
label support will allow him to accomplish even greater things.