“What did he say?” she posed as the whirling squirts and digital snaps roared at the song’s climax.
“Red hot drops,” I replied, with a somewhat condescending tone, my standard delivery for a question I felt unworthy of enunciation.
“It sounds like he’s saying drots.” She countered after listening to the next light more closely.
Indeed, the plosive ending to Chad VanGaalen’s “Red hot drops / hot read drops” lines in song of same name is so strongly punctuated that the interpretation is easily muddled. Throughout Skelliconnection, the singer’s latest album, VanGaalen flexes the songwriting muscles exhibited on 2004’s Infiniheart. As potent as his abilities are, they are further enhanced by the charming sloppiness of it all. VanGaalen learned this skill well from Grandfather Beck and the in-laws, Neutral Milk Hotel (whose lyrical cohesion he more closely follows).
On “Gubbbish,” VanGaalen proclaims, “I’m never going to sleep. / I’m never going to sleep.” “Mini-TVs” ends with the lines, “Mix tapes, / try to stay awake, / ride my rusty bicycle / into the lake.” The next-to-last song on the album is titled “Sing Me 2 Sleep.” As a whole, the album feels like the slow waning of an adolescent’s schizophrenic energy.
All these lyrics bring to mind the themes of Infiniheart, namely the closer “Traffic,” which partially inspired the title of this blog. Sleep (not to mention traffic, the ocean*, and the future) is to Chad VanGaalen what wolves, hearts, and owls are to Jason Molina: a personal archetype fat with symbolism and meaning, but slender enough to make an easy turn of phrase. The meaning is everything, but it’s not enough to distract from the simple genius of the song.
“See-Thru-Skin,” a gentle whisper compared to most of the tracks procedes “Wind-Driving Dogs,” VanGaalen’s version of a Delta-blues foot stomper, complete with hand claps. Other than the afore mentioned “Red Hot Drops,” no song jumps off of Skelliconnection, but VanGaalen has crafted a solid indie pop gem.
Chad VanGaalen – “Red Hot Drops” from Skelliconnection
Chad VanGaalen – “Traffic” from Infiniheart
*In VanGaalen’s musical universe, sleep = [under]water = traffic/highway (just listen to “After the Afterlife”), but I don’t want to get to English-major on ya’ll.