Chad VanGaalen, ‘Shrink Dust’ (Sub Pop)
Chad VanGaalen lives an artist’s dream.
Thanks to grants from the Canadian government — coupled with a Sub Pop distribution deal — the singer, songwriter, animator and producer has issued new records and video clips with minimal interference since 2005.
But with such freedom one shoulders the burden of oversight alone.
His latest offering, “Shrink Dust,” out Tuesday, is a self-described country album, leading one to wonder what exactly the Calgary native considers country — or how potent the psychedelics are north of the border.
To be fair, the 37-year-old — whose surname rhymes with “Van Halen” — did recently add pastoral pedal-steel guitar to his sonic palette, but acoustic songsmith is just one of many personas on a record that encompasses art rock, freak folk and garage punk, delighting in changing course right when you think you’ve figured it out. Just about the only constants are his strained, boyish quiver and his lyrics’ macabre imagery.
As a result, the 40-minute LP is uneven. For each engaging highlight — the rambunctious “Leaning On Bells,” the slithery “All Will Combine,” below — three or more tracks float by leaving less of an impression.
“Shrink Dust” marks VanGaalen’s fifth consecutive mixed bag for Sub Pop. Given his favorable arrangement with the Seattle label and the Canadian grants, one wonders if more pressure wouldn’t be a good thing.
If he cared to, he might have a better chance of reaching a wider audience by giving his very best work the anthology treatment, rather than continuing to release unfiltered material with little fanfare — just because he can.