“There you are, like a ghost of what you believe in, you fool,” Calgary’s Chad VanGaalen croons during 2017’s Light Information. Alienation is a recurring theme of VanGaalen’s music, and Light Information examines the concept through a lens of tech anxiety, exploring the isolation of communal consciousness and the consequences of obsessive connectedness. “The truth is we used it on ourselves, first, the mind hijacker’s curse/Its slow and tender touch is now flying in our heads and sleeping in our beds,” he sings on the first track. But his music is as playful as it is paranoid, with biting introspection slinking through webs of reverb and around walls of sci-fi synth.
On an album that’s about “not feeling comfortable with really anything,” VanGaalen manages to welcome listeners in even as he gets unsettled, inviting us to stay a while longer, to have another drink. Pitchfork has described VanGaalen “as much mad scientist as one-man band,” which Light Information reflects. “Mind Hijacker’s Curse” feels a bit like The Flaming Lips riding away on “Goodbye Horses.” “Prep Piano and 770” is a bell’s toll alongside fuzzy bouts of dread-inducing synth for two minutes. In contrast, “Static Shape” is bright and sunny, chirpy even: “Carve a shape into the static/try to remember all the beautiful magic.”
VanGaalen is also an accomplished visual artist, animator, director, and producer, having worked with Dan Deacon, The Head and the Heart, Women, and Alvvays, among others. He puts this creative flexibility to use on his own albums, of course, which he records and produces largely by himself. His first album, Infiniheart, was recorded in a makeshift studio in his bedroom before being picked up in 2005 by Sub Pop. He has since upgraded to a garage studio full of vintage equipment and homemade instruments, like an analog drum machine made partly of Legos.