(Flemish Eye Records)
That Calgarian Chad VanGaalen has signed an international deal to release this third album with the storied Sub Pop label makes perfect sense. This is arguably something more like the album fans were hoping to get from label-mates The Shins on their last outing, Wincing the Night Away---still quite good but likely a victim of insanely high expectations. “City of Electric Light” will draw the most direct comparison to that band, with its simple pop verse/chorus chords and the singer’s admiration from a distance (in time and space) of a former love/hero. Like The Shins, VanGaalen’s songs balance a creepy, soft-handed and pale-skinned fragility with bursts of out-there, colourful psychedelic pop. It’s a lineage with varying iterations going back to Syd Barrett (solo stuff) and reaching up to Shotgun Jimmie (see the descending vocal melody, mid-tempo lope and smart lyrics of “Bones of Man”). This is the sound of a young artist wise beyond his years, especially on tracks such as “Willow Tree” and “Cries of the Dead,” which show a thoughtfulness regarding---perhaps an acceptance of---death, a quality often heard in music by the Ghost Bees. Similar to Shotgun Jimmie’s The Onlys last year, Soft Airplane arrives at the beginning of the last quarter of the year, and challenges you to remember everything that came before.