Chad VanGaalen at the Empty Bottle

Chad VanGaalen, a singer-songwriter from Calgary, Alberta, makes his recordings practically alone, writing every note and playing nearly every instrument. VanGaalen’s most recent album on Sub Pop, Light Information, offers an outstanding example of what he does so well: richly layered indie rock, with tuneful melodies but plenty of strange and murky textures. His songs have a touch of the lo-fi quality heard in classic Guided By Voices records, although it’s not because of any tape hiss — it has more to do with the way VanGaalen blends his various elements into an alchemical stew. It isn’t always immediately apparent which instrument is doing what in a song.

How does this translate during a live performance? As VanGaalen demonstrated during his Dec. 2 gig at the Empty Bottle, his songs also sound great when they’re played in a pretty straightforward style by a rock band. The tunes were less ornate and more direct — like an alternate but equally compelling version of the brilliant audio art VanGaalen creates in his home studio.

Un Blonde

Opening act Un Blonde — the solo project of Montreal-based musician Jean-Sebastian Audet — played a very loose set, with some awkward pauses as Audet seemed to be deciding on the spot which song to play next, signaling that information to his backing musicians right as a song began. I sensed a bit of restlessness in the audience, and yet, I found it fascinating to watch, somewhat like witnessing an impromptu rehearsal. This was my first exposure to Un Blonde’s music, and I could tell that Audet’s a talent to watch.