With a title to match its chaotic tone, World's Most Stressed Out Gardener is the seventh album from Chad VanGaalen, the Calgary-based singer, songwriter, and illustrator known for his eclectic kitchen-sink style and peculiar visual aesthetic. Since joining the Sub Pop label in 2005, VanGaalen has remained reliably true to his own D.I.Y. ethos, recording most of his albums at home, playing practically all of the instruments, and designing his own artwork and videos, which are populated with colorful creatures and wild, sometimes disturbing scenes. With every release, it's clear he has imagination to spare. His previous album, 2017's Light Information, doubled down on underlying currents of anxiety and alienation, and while elements of this spill over into Gardener, the whole of the record is a far more sprawling and disconnected affair. Segueing from tranquil space folk to tumultuous quasi-orchestral indie rock, often within the same track, VanGaalen unloads his whims with an almost frantic gusto. The results are as confounding as they are dazzling, though ultimately skewing toward the latter given the breadth and scope of his imagination. What Gardener lacks in cohesion, it generally makes up for in its sense of adventure and richness of experience. From the cosmic grooves of "Starlight" and "Nightwaves" to the bucolic folk of "Where Is It All Going?," there's a little something for everyone here. Interestingly, VanGaalen claims that Gardener began as an instrumental flute record, then morphed over a period of a few years into the unruly chamber folk/experimental pop beast it now resembles. Scattered among the more typical guitar-bass-drum elements are dreamy wind instruments, plucked cellos, pots, pans, and snippets of tape-recorded chatter from his young children. It can all be a bit much at times, but this all-in approach to creativity has been VanGaalen's M.O. from the start, and his talent remains something to behold.
© Timothy Monger /TiVo