My only excuse for waiting so long to review Chad VanGaalen's brilliant new release, Soft Airplane, is that I have been too busy listening to it. Over and over and over.
You've no doubt been hearing a lot of buzz about this album, been hearing phrases like contender for album of the year, one of the best releases of 2008, tossed about in conversation. And there's good reason for the hype. This truly is a splendid album.
I'll admit that from my perspective, Chad VanGaalen is approaching the status of one of those artists who could fart in a bag and call it an album and I would still give it an 8/10. But Soft Airplane is no fart in a bag. It is a diverse and mature album that still manages to maintain the abundance of childlike enthusiasm that permeates all of Chad VanGaalen's music. You can hear it in the joy of discovery of new sounds like the drum machine robot on Cries of the Dead or the train clacks recorded underneath a railroad track on Rabid Bits of Time. You are never quite sure what you are going to hear being used as a musical instrument on a Chad VanGaalen piece, and it is that strangeness that keeps his music so fresh and so compelling after repeated plays.
The Resident Offspring pointed out that when you see Chad perform live, you always get the impression that he is just making up the songs as he goes along. It's not until you hear them actually committed to vinyl that you realise that he has, in fact, written this stuff down.
There's an organic quality to his songs that do feel as though they have just escaped from the overloaded brain of a mad genius. Sometimes this results in lyrics which should cause me to shake my head, but they don't; instead I find their unpretentiousness to be charming. Not many people can get away with lyrics like you went to the mountains true and painted what you saw/you came back late and hid the painting underneath our couch/and I wasn't there when you made it/but I feel like I'm there when I'm looking at it (Cries of Dead) and still maintain their credibility as one of the best musicians of the day. Somehow Chad VanGaalen makes it all work, gloriously.
It would be a mistake not to buy this album. In fact, I would recommend that you buy two copies because you are going to wear that first one out.