Somebody give Sub Pop records a cookie. They’ve discovered one of the most fascinating, promising artists I’ve ever heard.

Chad VanGaalen
‘s, “Soft Airplane,” is nothing short of genius. The lyrics alone are worth the price of admission. Check out the single, the folky “Willow Tree,” on which he muses: “When I’m dead/ Is when I’ll be free.” Or the haunting “Molten Light,” a warning (“She’ll find you and she’ll kill you”) of a girl who apparently was killed and dumped in the river, where she “floated to the surface” but “did not ignite.” Returning as a demon, she seeks revenge. The perfect Halloween song. Vocally, he sounds a little like Modest Mouse about to cry—his high, wispy voice has a wavery trill that makes it sound other-wordly.

Overall, VanGaalen deserves comparison to Neil Young and Warren Zevon, both of whom successfully forayed into pop (“This Note’s For You”/”Werewolves of London”), folk-country-rock (“Helpless”/”Desperados Under the Eaves”), classic rock (“Rust Never Sleeps”/”Lawyers, Guns and Money”), and even what passed in their own times for experimental/electronic music (“Arc”/”Transverse City”). But even those immensely talented artists didn’t try to do what Mr. Vangaalen does: Jump through all those genres on one album. Nay, in one song even! “Cries of the Dead,” the most powerful song on the album, begins with a strange sound collage, moves seamlessly into a wailing folks song, gently brings in a Beatles-style acoustic line punctuated by an incredibly complex but soft percussion, and then moves into Beach Boys territory. After hearing it, you’ll wonder how the hell he did that.

This has to be one of the greatest albums of the year. It just plain has to be.

For fans of: Postal Service, Neil Young, The Shins, Modest Mouse.

Willow Tree

Cries of the Dead


Free Bird-Cat Power (Skynyrd cover!)

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