“Willow Tree” opens up the newest effort from Chad Van Gaalen, Soft Airplanes. From the start you experience what Chad is all about, but only one aspect. The quite folk song is underlined by his soft vocals, which appear to have some sort of vocal affect that provides an emotional echo. Regardless, this is the song you want to hear while sitting on your back porch.
Then you swing at the folk moniker and you miss. ”Bones of Man” completely throws you off track, walking the line of rhythm based bands such as Pinback. Even his vocals aren’t exactly the same, which is a bit refreshing. It’s a good song, though I must admit that it doesn’t have the draw of the opening track.
And back he goes again with the off-kilter folk tunes, though this one has stronger percussion work than the first song, though by no means is it over-powering–just more noticeable. By this point, his voice is back, and you can really immerse yourself in it. For some reason, it sounds like a folkier version of Brendan Benson.
From here he cruises off to sunnier times, or at least the feeling in “Inside the Molecules” is all things California. His guitar sounds a little more bluesy, but the atmospherics clinging to his vocals kind of carry that breezy aura you’d expect to find in a California bar band. He doesn’t jump so far with his next song, “Bare Feet on Wet Griptape,” but this song just didn’t work for this listener. It seems sort of casual, and even the lyrical commentary isn’t too insightful.
Suddenly, you’re transferred to future land where folk meets samples, and I know its been done before, but it’s sort of like James Figurine meets Grizzly Bear. I still can’t decide if that is a good thing or not. You should probably decide for yourself.
At this point I feel like I’ve run the course of this album. I don’t mean to say that in adding that point that you can turn off the record at this point, because there are definitely some key points to be visited throughout the rest of the album, but he jumps and jives across genres. Van Gaalen does it so effortlessly that a listener agreeably goes with him, no matter where he travels. His vocals have a haunting sense of freedom attached to them, and when he steers away from the folk as he does on “TMNT Mask,” its believable. Sure, one could ask for more focus here on this album, but at the same time I think the differences in sound add a texture to the album that you won’t really find elsewhere. Besides he paid homage to the long forgotten Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’d down with that.
This is good stuff.