Chad VanGaalen: World's Most Stressed Out Gardener (Sub Pop) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Chad VanGaalen

World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener

Sub Pop

Mar 19, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Now that the pandemic has been around for a full year, we are partially past the records that were delayed or wrapped up under quarantine, and on to albums that are directly influenced by this long spell of social distance and degrees of despair. Though its origins pre-date the global debacle, Calgary’s sound-and-visionary Chad VanGaalen side-eyes the abyss on his seventh-or-so studio album, World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener.

Does World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener yield a harvest of hope, a bumper crop of crazy, an abundance of caution? The flora is variegated with vintage VanGaalen psychedelic sci-fi imagery grown in earthy, organic songwriting. The album begins with summers “lived on the spider’s milk” and “dreams of starlight” feeding into fantasy, but soon enough smacks you in the face with a mirror. “These days keep rolling away like every one is the same/When every step you take is like you’re forcing the motion again/Yeah you should try and relax but there just isn’t any way,” goes the climactic admission of “Where Is It All Going?” on its dreamy walk. That titular question on many minds is appropriately answered with a kind of silence, the wordless synth space-scape “Earth From a Distance.”

One of the consistent charms of VanGaalen’s albums is the unique microclimate they create, sheltered from external stress and intrusion even as they confront their own harsh un-realities. World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener stays on that journey, spinning a sonic-folk yarn across the cosmos, its textures shifting and shadows alluring. All the while, it remains grounded by the homespun instrumentation (like the copper pipes that serve as xylophones on “Samurai Sword”) and a candlelight compositional feel which gleams brighter for the prudence of polish. Songs like “Nothing Is Strange” naturally find their peaks and offer a moment’s escapism even as they remind you that in fact “there ain’t no escape.”

Between the silly and surreal, like the “Samurai Sword” with “a blade that’s been tempered by the blood of the gods, and a tiny little sticker of a dog,” there is a sense that exaggeration can creep too close to truth. Answers are not always easy to come by, and clarity can dissolve into confusion just as easily as confusion can give way to clarity. World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener breathes, stares, and shovels through this universe one tangled root at a time. (

Author rating: 8/10

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