Chad VanGaalen sounds a bit like a schizophrenic son of his fellow Canadian Neil Young. VanGaalen's past collections, cobbled together from hundreds of songs written years apart, jarringly leapfrogged styles and themes—it sounded like he needed meds. Settling into his Calgary basement to pen Soft Airplane gave VanGaalen focus and purpose, making the Neil Young comparison more appropriate. Mostly recording on an old tape machine and a boom-box, VanGaalen embraces the charms of the homemade aesthetic: He delicately layers guitar, banjo, percussion (both standard and unidentifiable), electronic blips and loops and samples, synthesizers, distortion, and accordions, but never loses his sophisticated fragility. Whether creaking through the hollow harmonies of The Shins ("City Of Electric Light") or softly drifting through wonder-filled banjo-pluckers ("Willow Tree"), Soft Airplane is complex and deliberate, so that even an attempt at synth-dance ("Phantom Anthills") fits the hopeful, dreamy country vibe of Young's '60s. VanGaalen's first two Sub Pop albums were compelling, but Soft Airplane gives him a stronger identity.
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