Chad VanGaalen, Cousins, Bry Webb | Empty Bottle | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader
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Chad VanGaalen, Cousins, Bry Webb Early Warnings (Music) Recommended Soundboard

When: Thu., May 22, 8:30 p.m. 2014
Price: $12
When I first heard Chad VanGaalen's 2004 album Infiniheart, shortly after Sub Pop reissued it the following year, its lo-fi antifolk had me imagining the Canadian singer-songwriter plucking at whimsical Rube Goldberg-style contraptions festooned with wooden curlicues and squiggles. Turns out I wasn't that far off—during his college days in the late 90s, VanGaalen used to rummage through garbage bins looking for scraps of wood and metal to build his own instruments, and he soon began using homemade devices on his recordings. In a 2011 video interview with Vice, he showed off some of his creations, including a thumb piano, an electric harp, and a small cylinder that spins music-box style to play a simple percussion pattern. The new Shrink Dust (Sub Pop) employs his DIY instruments too, and VanGaalen's colorful, sinister tunes continue to draw from pop, country, and hip-hop. The songs don't always stick in my head, but because they work like room-length tapestries—with lots of little details to get absorbed in, one at a time—they're fun even when the big picture doesn't hang together. Plus VanGaalen's always good for at least one killer tune every album: on Shrink Dust I'm stuck on "Where Are You?," where VanGaalen hollers to the heavens while he plays what sounds like a mutated church organ. —Leor Galil

Halifax trio Cousins—that's the capital of Nova Scotia, in case you're wondering—are decidedly a melodic indie-rock band, though that's not all they do. The stripped-clean arrangement of "Alone" is more or less representative of their new release, The Halls of Wickwire (Ba Da Bing), with its simple drumming and airy, tuneful vocals (often in falsetto) that repeatedly return to the line "No one should be alone." But the album also gets dark, and here and there it revs up into full-steam rock 'n' roll. "Death Man" is psych-driven cult rock, heavy on the flower-child vibes, and "What's Your Name" is a bouncy, echo-loaded party a la Thee Oh Sees. The Halls of Wickwire works as a whole because the kids' catchy songwriting is also adaptable and adventurous, hopping sure-footedly from one subgenre to another—here's hoping they stay nimble. And I'm not sure if you've noticed, but Ba Da Bing is on a roll right now with its new signings—Slothrust and Cross Record included. —Kevin Warwick Chad VanGaalen headlines; Cousins and Bry Webb (formerly of the Constantines) open.



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