I wouldn’t guess that Chad VanGaalen knows much about evolution. In the video for “Pine and Clover”, he animates coral-like beings that shapeshift into one another over the course of several geological epochs. I’d assumed VanGaalen’s subject was a woman when I first heard the song at Massey Hall a couple of years ago, but now all bets are off. If VanGaalen actually was knowledgeable in evolutionary science, I wouldn’t be surprised. One way or another, the man has a lot of ideas about all sorts of scientific and fantasy gobbledygook, and his sixth album Light Information fits well into that cannon.
“Pine and Clover” showcases Chad’s best trait – his songwriting. The music on his past records has always had to keep up. When he talked about his “living memories at home on ice” on “Frozen Paradise”, the arrangement could only create matching imagery so fast. We followed closely behind, asking “how far is this guy gonna take us into his mind?”
Light Information is much more direct and less impressionistic than what we’ve heard before, and the rabbit hole of ideas isn’t as deep. However, Chad has certainly retained his sense of humor: “Should I take the advice of the graffiti on the wall telling me to go suck it?” he asks on “Broken Bell”, almost giving in to defeatism. But, Chad has a wife, daughters, and way too much ingenuity to acquiesce to anyone else’s mantras. “Try to remember as much as I can/and try to keep faith in my fellow man”, he decides cheerfully on closer “Static Shape.”
There’s something else at work that makes this record less memorable than his previous work. On Shrink Dust in particular, it was pleasantly difficult to know what instruments were making the sounds (“Where Are You?”/”Cosmic Destroyer”) before he’d suddenly hit with a stripped down acoustic ballad (“Weighed Sin”). Now, things are a little more transparent. From the get-go, “Mind Hijacker’s Curse” showcases familiar synth sounds. They’re arranged in a way that only a man who takes pictures of his piss drawings is capable of, but a lot of his old mystery is gone. “Faces Lit” is a straight punk rock arrangement, and even the singles don’t have too much musical adventurousness. At the very end of closer “Static Shape”, there’s a showcase of atonal sound and fizzling drum machines, as if they’d been locked up for the whole record and were suddenly unleashed. Where were all those sounds beforehand?
Take a step back, and this is all easy to forget. Even if Chad’s forms aren’t as bizarre as they used to be, Light Information is still a very strange and fun record. There’s little indication of what he’s talking about on “Old Heads”, his most wonderfully produced song to date. “Host Body” contains some of the crypto-anatomical lyricism he’s known for, complete with an unwoven future and parasitic demons chewing you up from the inside. In a way, this is the record’s most “classic” feeling Chad VanGaalen song in all its David Cronenberg glory.
At the record’s end, it’s hard to look back on “Mind Hijacker’s Curse” as if the 12-song journey took place in a singular world or headspace. Light Information is too jagged to look like a through-composed tale, but that could easily be because we cheated by watching the Massey Hall video two years beforehand. Even if it doesn’t rekindle the fires of Chad’s hardcore fans on the same level, this is still the guy we fell in love with when he closed 2011’s Diaper Island with a song called “Shave My Pussy.” It’s perfectly plausible that the record will age just as well as VanGaalen’s best stuff – we just gotta give it more time to let its shapeshifting flowers bloom into something as beautiful as his animations.