The new Vetiver album, The Errant Charm, is a superb soundtrack for an afternoon idyll. This album was made for walking. Vetiver bandleader Andy Cabic spent hours wandering the streets around San Francisco’s Richmond District, listening to rough mixes, tinkering with lyrics and arrangements. You can hear his strides in the tempo of “Hard To Break,” which captures the brisk gait one might adopt while passing through a public green space: not hurried, just excited to be heading somewhere.
The album opens with “It’s Beyond Me,” a slow boil of acoustic guitar and vintage keyboards over a roomy beat. Here you’ll encounter almost every sonic idea showcased on The Errant Charm, the album’s universe distilled into one vibrant, six-and-a-half minute song. It builds to a robust character you’ve not heard from Vetiver before, but may have anticipated if you’ve followed them over the last four albums, from their eponymous 2004 debut through 2009’s Tight Knit. The Errant Charm: “errant” as in wayward, elusive. Wandering but not lost. Within that wandering, all manner of small treasures are uncovered. New ones surface with each listen. Go ahead, start the album over again and hear for yourself as you double back towards home.
Every so often, Chad VanGaalen emerges from his bunker in Calgary with a batch of songs, giving us a window into the private world of this reclusive and enigmatic songwriter. With Diaper Island, VanGaalen distills his approach, producing his most sonically cohesive album to date, and the closest thing he has done to a rock album.
While VanGaalen’s three previous records were made in a cramped basement studio, a move to a larger recording room offered space to develop and refine his sound. Fresh from producing Women’s critically lauded Public Strain, VanGaalen decided to avoid the comfort of working on previous ground, and apply some of the recording techniques and sonic ideas that emerged from those sessions. For the first time, multi-tracked and often overdriven guitar is the instrument at the centre of the songs, which are often spartan and free of the melodic details that embellished previous albums. With this focus on guitar, combined with a beloved vintage tape machine determining the sound, VanGaalen moved towards a leaner, no-frills approach—one that more closely resembles the music that influenced him as a teenager, while continuing the arc laid out in his previous work.
The paradox of trying to assert control in a climate of helplessness winds through the album, whether in the existential pondering on life and death that often pervades VanGaalen’s songs (“Do Not Fear,” “Replace Me”), or in the conflict between control and creativity (“Freedom for a Policeman,” “No Panic, No Heat”). At the album’s heart is “Sara,” a simple and celebratory paean that gorgeously praises the ability of VanGaalen’s partner and muse to nurture his creativity in the face of this uncertainty, and captures the songwriter at his most sincere and powerful.
At this point Chad VanGaalen may perhaps be better known for his illustrative rather than his musical output. As was the case with all of his previous albums, VanGaalen has illustrated all of the art for Diaper Island himself. He’s also in the midst of animating a music video as well. His past videos have been collectively viewed well over a million times on youtube. He’s also animated music videos for folks like J Mascis, Guster, and Holy Fuck.
VanGaalen has been quietly building a catalogue of songs, illustrations, and animations that invite listeners to gently explore his distinctive creativity. Diaper Island extends the adventure into deeper territory, tapping into VanGaalen’s lifeblood and mining the richness of his mind with sharper tools.
2008 Soft Airplane
2011 Diaper Island
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