Chad VanGaalen

Chad VanGaalen

VanGaalen has scored television shows, designed puppet characters for Adult Swim, directed videos for Shabazz Palaces, Strand of Oaks, METZ, Dan Deacon, Timber Timbre, and produced records for Women, Alvvays, and others. His last record is a jangly pop gem, a trip through the fantastical that is ultimately warm and relatable. This remarkable coexistence is one of the many achievements of Chad VanGaalen’s Light Information, his sixth record on Sub Pop. It draws on a new kind of wisdom–and anxiety–gained as he watches his kids growing up.

“Being a parent has given me a sort of alternate perspective, worrying about exposure to a new type of consciousness that’s happening through the internet,” he says. “I didn’t have that growing up, and I’m maybe trying to preserve a little bit of that selfishly for my kids.”

As always, VanGaalen wrote, played, and produced all of the music on Light Information (save Ryan Bourne’s bass part on “Mystery Elementals” and vocals on “Static Shape” from his young daughters Ezzy and Pip), and designed the cover art. The product of six years’ work, going back even before 2014’s Shrink Dust, Light
Information emerged from the experimental instruments that fill VanGaalen’s Calgary garage studio. Among them is a beloved Korg 770 monosynth, which VanGaalen coveted for years before fixing one up and devoting a lot of recent energy to recording “duets” with it. One of these, “Prep Piano and 770,” is the lone instrumental on Light Information, more atmosphere and chord bursts than the rest of the album’s hooky rock narrative.

“If I was going to go out and buy a record, I would probably want it to sound only like that,” says VanGaalen. “That one’s for me.”

Emerging from underground venues in Chicago’s Northwest side, NE-HI made its name on both its live
energy and cleverly wrought guitar anthems. On its second album Offers (Grand Jury), the band takes those
basement-forged instincts and refines them, lets its guitars explore new angles, and focuses its songwriting.
The result shows there are a wide range of post-punk possibilities yet to be explored.
It all started at Animal Kingdom, a flash-in-the-pan DIY basement in Chicago’s Logan Square. There, in the
summer of 2013, three friends from college, Jason Balla (guitar/vocals), Mikey Wells (guitar/vocals) and
James Weir (bass) linked up with drummer Alex Otake to score a buddy’s film and decided to start bashing
around together as NE-HI. NE-HI’s more ambitious sound and heady arrangements broke away from garage
rock’s back-to-basic’s approach. The band’s disparate influences--Wire’s post-punk, Springsteen’s
everyman anthems, along with echoes of dreamy atmospheres of Dave Roback’s Rain Parade and the
jangly buzz of Kiwi pop legends The Clean--began burning through. The band attracted the attention of
Dave Vettraino, who asked NE-HI to record at his Public House Recordings studio for posting on his
website. Vettraino would go on to record the band’s debut album. The Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot gave the
debut the #4 spot in his 2014 year-end list.
Offers is NE-HI finding that rising to the occasion means living up to your own standards, not someone
else’s. The band entered Chicago’s Minbal studio in January 2016 to record ten songs with Vettraino
engineering, but scrapped most of the session. To finish the record, NE-HI went back to touring, writing,
rewriting and returned to Minbal in March more solid than ever. It recorded most of Offers live at Minbal
to capture the energy--only overdubbing vocals.
Offers drones, it captivates with soaring pop, it shimmers with atmosphere, always changing, looking. The
album veers from the staccato pop of “Palm of Hand” (which nods to Chicago’s Disappears) to the jangly
pleasures of “Stay Young.” The off-kilter, ultra-catchy “Sisters” refines the carefree feeling of the band’s
debut--picking up the spirit of New Zealand pop. Title track “Offers” feels like a slight departure, the band
pushing its most abstract and unpredictable instincts. On “Prove” the band’s post-punk guitars come at
blistering tempo, it’s the band’s most athletic moment yet. While the punchy drawl of “Buried on the
Moon” conjures a less sleepy Let’s Active.
Offers finds the distant influence of forebears in cerebral guitar pop presented with a familiarity that
typifies great FM rock hits. The Midwestern boys (two from Chicago, one from Wisconsin, and one from
Minnesota) in NE-HI have a knack for knitting something comfortable and warm from those art school castoffs
and cult favorites. NE-HI’s music demands to be lived in. Chances are good that in the case of Offers, regifting will be rare.

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