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The Freak-Folk Space Cowboy

Chad VanGaalen
Chad VanGaalen

Canadian songwriter and visual artist Chad VanGaalen has built a comprehensive little universe with his work, over which he rules supreme, whether through his spacey indie-folk songs or his R. Crumb-esque surrealist comic book-style illustrations. 

Shrink Dust, VanGaalen’s latest for Sub Pop Records, features the singer’s signature campfire-quavering tenor and acoustic guitar, punctuated by spacey ambience. The dust in the title Shrink Dust, alongside the occasional pedal steel and permanent slow-moseying tempo of the music, evokes a country-Western feel like a hot and arid plain. Just picture it: VanGaalen emerging over the horizon on horseback, a freak-folk space cowboy riding a horse with no name.

VanGaalen sounds a bit like Neil Young when he sings opaquely, “Cut off both my hands and threw them in the sea/ Watched them swim away like a pair of bloody crabs” from album opener “Cut Off My Hands,” and an unexpected clarinet solo emerges from the noisy interlude at the center of the track. 

Elsewhere, the surrealism continues. “Where are you?” he pleads in the song of the same title, like a lost soul from outer space. On “I’m a Monster,” he repeats in the Flaming Lips-style, Kafka’s Metamorphosis-inspired “Monster,” and the weirdness carries on throughout the songs “Evil” and the discordant intro to the appropriately titled “Weird Love.”

Chad VanGaalen plays with Canadian garage-pop duo Cousins, who are celebrating the release of their latest record, The Halls of Wickwire, 9:30 pm Friday, June 20, at Sam Bond’s; $12.