Chad VanGaalen
World's Most Stressed Out Gardener


4.5
superb

Review

by Nic Renshaw STAFF
May 17th, 2021 | 26 replies


Release Date: 03/19/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Turning over the boulder of modern neo-psych and watching the pillbugs and worms

Prior to hearing this album, my only experience with Chad VanGaalen was watching his 2017 animated short film TARBOZ, a thoroughly interesting (if scattershot) piece of stream-of-consciousness sci-fi loosely following the titular spacefaring scavenger on a series of surreal, semi-coherent escapades and misadventures. It was a fun watch due to its off-the-wall visuals and eerie, eclectic soundtrack, but it seemed to hold its subjects at arm’s length, and there wasn’t a ton there to really dig into as a result, no strong thematic core or engaging characters to invest in. So, since watching it it’s largely lingered in the dustier storage rooms of my mind, something I don’t really think about very often but pull out every once in a blue moon when I’m intoxicated and want to watch something trippy. Fast-forward to a week ago: I was perusing the Sub Pop bandcamp page on a whim, I saw the name “Chad VanGaalen”, and I thought to myself, “Oh, neat, the TARBOZ guy, I didn’t know he made music”. All the album art had a similarly appealing visual style to the short film, so I queued up his most recent release and pressed play- Hell, it’s a lazy Sunday, I’ve got nothing else going on, what’s the harm in checking it out?

As it turned out, World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener was not only the most delightful surprise I’ve come across in a very long while, it may just be the best album I’ve heard so far this year. It takes everything I liked about TARBOZ (including the visual aspect-wow!) and somehow compresses it all into 13 servings of quirky, endlessly fascinating psychedelia, while stripping away the sense of cold distance that made the film a bit hard to connect with. At the core of the album is a gentle yet abiding curiosity about and appreciation for the natural world. This isn’t so much to do with the lyrical themes (though nature does crop up there from time to time) as it is to do with the album’s palette and compositional style. The songs here are unabashedly shaggy, shambling, imperfect and misshapen, wearing their deformities and scrapes with pride. They stumble from a sonic morass, they wriggle about and sniff the air, sometimes they fall apart and reform into something entirely new by the end. Ever since I first heard it, I’ve wanted to listen to this album over and over and over again because, like nature, it feels ever-shifting and impossible to all take in at once. As with any truly great psychedelic music, there are simply too many details to notice everything in only one listen.

The songwriting across the album is impressively diverse, but there are throughlines that emerge if you have the patience to uncover them. VanGaalen primarily interests himself in mining the dichotomy between glitching, whirring electronics and shambolic, muscular folk-rock. Sometimes there’s a distinct sense of the natural and rough-hewn reclaiming the manmade and strictly organized, whether it’s the programmed beats and keyboards of “Nightwaves” piling up into a lumbering, organic rhythm or reverbed acoustic plonks piercing through a haze of gurgling artificial noises on “Nothing is Strange”. Other times, the two co-exist separately and peacefully: the tender “Where is it All Going?” drapes itself in recordings of birdsong before the instrumental “Earth From a Distance” veers into bright, cosmic synthscapes that somehow seem just as vibrant and alive. Of the 13 tracks here, only the droning “Inner Fire” finds itself overextended and less than entirely welcome, and even that song creates a niche for itself that no other song on the album occupies and manages to set itself apart. All the stylistic pivots can feel a bit dizzying at first, but there’s a clear method to the madness underneath it all, and unraveling it proves to be as much of a treat as the colorful, inventive arrangements or the surprisingly sticky melodies scattered throughout the album.

All of this revolves around VanGaalen’s voice, which he manages to contort rather impressively over the course of the tracklist. He filters it to make it all woozy and wobbly (“Nothing is Strange”), multi-tracks himself into a choir or warlocks delivering strange incantations (“Starlight”, “Nightmare Scenario”), and strips it all back to reveal a frail, Thom Yorke-ish croon that can deliver plaintive melancholy (“Where is it All Going?”, “Water Brother”) as well as playful storybook silliness (“Golden Pear”, “Samurai Sword”). His lyrics range from meditative and thoughtful to goofy and irreverent, and generally strike a good balance between weird, crunchy details and more broadly-sketched sentiments that a listener can easily relate to. Of course, it was also mostly recorded during quarantine, so it also makes the requisite allusions to isolation and boredom (“days keep rolling away, like every one is the same / and every step that you take is like you’re forcing the motion” is handily the most heartbreaking line on the album). Despite this, or perhaps even because of it, Gardener feels free and explorative in a way that could be read as escapist, but it ultimately leaves room for interpretations outside the circumstances of last year, and allows listeners to focus on the wide variety of textures and songwriting styles it offers if they so choose.

For all its oddball sound design and ramshackle writing, World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener is still, first and foremost, immediately loveable. Its branches may gnarl in all manner of wonky directions, but it always finds its roots in earnest, smart pop songcraft, and flourishes because of it. It’s an immensely creative album by a guy with a clear-cut passion for music and the process of making it, in addition to the patience and good humor to grow that passion into an entire menagerie of strange, wonderful noises. Like his animations, VanGaalen’s music creates a fleshed-out world bursting forth with rubbery, alien life, and after a dozen-plus listens, I’m still eager to explore it even more.



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user ratings (23)
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Kompys2000
Staff Reviewer
May 17th 2021


7139 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

https://chadvangaalen.bandcamp.com/album/worlds-most-stressed-out-gardener



Give this one a listen, I think it's really something special.

Slex
May 17th 2021


14036 Comments


Dunno about this but Rabid Bits of Time is one of the most important songs there is to me

Digging: Conjurer (UK) - Pathos

Kompys2000
Staff Reviewer
May 17th 2021


7139 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

That's definitely the kind of song you'll only write once in your career but there are a few tunes here in that general vein so I'd say it's worth checking out (:

Slex
May 17th 2021


14036 Comments


Right on I'll check it out!

Sowing
Moderator
May 17th 2021


41304 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I checked this back when it came out and it was really enjoyable. Glad it got a review, nice work.

Digging: Shinedown - Planet Zero

hel9000
Contributing Reviewer
May 17th 2021


1362 Comments


nice review. one of those artists I need to get more into, always liked Soft Airplane.

anat
Contributing Reviewer
May 17th 2021


4824 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

hey this owns

Chambered79
May 17th 2021


1012 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i like plant music.

Gyromania
May 17th 2021


34575 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is fucking great

Kompys2000
Staff Reviewer
May 17th 2021


7139 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Cheers all, glad to see others enjoying this!

Kompys2000
Staff Reviewer
May 18th 2021


7139 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

That's funny, initially it was the beginning that was a bit uneven for me, and the rest that hit right away :P

butt.
May 18th 2021


9867 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yo, this shit is really cool! Never listened to him prior to now. Definitely reminds me of Women in some ways. Captivating indie folk/rock. Love it

Kompys2000
Staff Reviewer
May 19th 2021


7139 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

It definitely makes me want to give public strain another shot, I checked it out a while ago and wasn't really feeling it

butt.
May 19th 2021


9867 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

At least revisit Heat Distraction, Locust Valley, and Eyesore from Public Strain.

Chambered79
May 19th 2021


1012 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

ya i dig this

LeddSledd
May 20th 2021


7273 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

hmmm might have to check this

Kompys2000
Staff Reviewer
May 20th 2021


7139 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Please do!!



Also love the avi, gotta reread Bone sometime

LeddSledd
May 20th 2021


7273 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

mega nostalgic value for moi



reread the series last week, just as funny as i remember it being

butt.
May 21st 2021


9867 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Samurai Sword is the only thing here I skip. The front half is definitely the better half, but still really enjoying the whole thing

Kompys2000
Staff Reviewer
May 21st 2021


7139 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I think Samurai Sword is cute and fun but yeah tbh I get that being your one skip on the album



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