Chad VanGaalen’s ‘World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener’ is a wonderful pile of garbage

by Molly Larson

Chad VanGaalen’s ‘World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener’ is a wonderful pile of garbage

Chad VanGaalen

World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener

Sub Pop · March 19, 2021

Chad VanGaalen’s ‘World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener’ is a wonderful pile of garbage

Chad VanGaalen likes to eat his vegetables like a deer grazing through the garden – “I get down on my knees…It’s nice to feel the vegetables in your face,” he says. His eighth studio album, World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener, is a collection of tracks that feels as raw and scattered as a home garden. The album acts as an exercise in fleshing out whims and ideas without allowing them to warp into obsession. This results in an incoherent album that brings the listener through different concepts, instrumental fixations, and worlds. One can only imagine what it’s like to visit VanGaalen’s home studio – which is littered with obscure and handmade instruments – or to exist in his mind.

The path to the album’s final version had several forks along the way: it was originally a flute record (now only retained in the 46-second “Flute Peace”), then an electronic record, before finally “right at the last second…turn[ing] into a pile of garbage,” VanGaalen remarks. The record sits like a pile on the curb after an estate sale; if overlooked, it will be damned as garbage when it’s actually free treasure for the taking. Some pieces like “Where Is It All Going?” and “Golden Pear” lean less towards the psychedelic and experimental and can be appreciated by even the more casual folk listener. Quietly asking a question no one can answer, “Where Is It All Going?” is a standout on the record. The pleasant instrumentation of the song feels lighter than its lyrics, which depict sentiments like “Taken by the existential rush / She was buried alive by her thoughts and crushed.”

“Earth From a Distance” feels like it was created for a sci-fi space travel epic. VanGaalen lays rhythmic beeps and distant vocals over a foundation of sustained synthesizer chords to transport the listener to another world. This is what makes VanGaalen’s work so special: he transports the audience so fully into the worlds he creates, whether it be his sometimes creepy animations or his often bizarre tracks. One cannot help but find themselves entranced by the weird beauty of the worlds inside Chad VanGaalen’s mind. These worlds aren’t all utopias, however – World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener has a strong apocalyptic thread. “Nothing is Strange” explores the possibility that VanGaalen is not alive at all. He sings in a garbled voice, “Turn off the radio / I think we’re dead.” The song approaches this prospect without despair, but rather as a reality that must be accepted.

From squeaky clarinet to minimalistic flute to interesting sounds that he discovers in his creative den, VanGaalen’s multi-instrumentalism is a pivotal part of his music. This creativity allows VanGaalen to produce songs like “Samurai Sword,” which features his basement’s copper plumbing, played like a xylophone, and seamlessly combines found sound, fantasy, and silly lyrics – “Has anybody seen a Samurai sword? / I think I left it leaning against the outside door…it’s only on loan from a friend.”

On his most recent album, Chad VanGaalen steps outside of the perfectionism that can quickly overtake a project, instead allowing unbridled creativity and fixations to come together to create an absurd and incoherent collection of tracks. World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener is a product of unhinged expression that only a recluse like VanGaalen could create.