11 October 2019 (released)
31 October 2019
Political albums often have a dryness to them. Even if the performer is deeply passionate about existentially significant matters, the lack of personal moments can fail to resonate in an emotional way with an audience. Meanwhile, there is a deluge of singer-songwriters whose confessional tunes about the “apocalyptic” ending of their 6-month relationship can feel drastically overdramatic and tiresome. What if an artist could take a series of legitimately devastating personal events and channel them into their art, discussing them in a frank yet poetic manner while at the same time addressing the major worldwide crisis that currently looms over the world? What if such an album were scored by a euphoria-inducing ocean plume of rich synths over low-fi beats? What then, Gary???
Prolific dreamy-psychedelic producer Casey Chandler is the mastermind behind Austin-based project Galapaghost. Chandler has often found ways to cohesively discuss both national political events and personal circumstances within the same album. 2018's Pulse commented on the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando (at the time, the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter in American history) alongside songs about his own personal life. With the release of A Planet Without an Atmosphere, Galapaghost has taken this combination of personal and global to staggering new depths with an album in which his personal situation and the status of the planet are extremely suitable metaphors for one another. Chandler recorded the album in the midst of a disastrous series of events last year. Within a few months, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, his father was killed while walking in a parking lot by a distracted driver and his wife had a miscarriage. The shock of all this death in his life in such a short period had a profound effect on him. At the same time, the crisis of global warming is coming to a head and the exasperation of watching leaders actively exacerbate the situation weighed heavily on his mind. The frustration of feeling powerless against these forces of nature is palpable on the record yet the record does exude hope. Chandler addresses events directly and earnestly, not consumed by his own pain and anger, but posing questions to try to disseminate the situation and find solutions.
The title track opens the record alluding to both the catastrophic end result of climate change as well as Chandler's own sense of suffocation in the face of losses. However, the track's main focus is trying to find joy amidst the chaos with chillwave synths and low-fi drums backing his aspiration: “I just wanna be happy”. The early single 'Mirage' promptly cuts in to follow. His vocals are awash with digital distortion blending smoothly into the wall of resonant synthesizers. These two short tracks (2:37 and 2:00) serve as an intro to the meat of the album to come.
The one rich synth patch underscores the record giving it a tight cohesiveness while accompanying sounds are allowed to dance and sway on top of it. 'Lonely Ocean' swells in with this synth that would be right at home on Radiohead's mid-career electronic work. The halftime portrays a sort of uneasy peace, an acquiescence. The merging of his falsetto with the wave of keys hits moments of arresting serenity. The emotional crest of the album comes with 'Test Stick Uhaul Her, Can Sir?' (sound it out phonetically). The track introduces acoustic guitar for the first time on the record and features Chandler's vocals unobstructed by effects, speaking bluntly on the pivotal moment of his diagnosis. The song offers some of the most poignantly put lines written on the subject sung in a steadily measured gait. “Took care of my body but it still just failed me/Felt like I had to unzip my fly so I could breathe/The simple answer, Mr. Chandler: Testicular Cancer” and “Life goes faster when you're not your body's master anymore”. The track hits a gorgeous plateau, floating off into the clouds for its finale. 'Test Stick Uhaul Her, Can Sir?' is the definition of taking tragic events and creating something beautiful. Hopefully, anyone facing a similar situation can hear this song and relate.
'Smother Nature' shifts the focus back globally with a sarcastic commentary on the danger of fake news duping us into ignoring our own destruction from climate change, “I read it all online, I just thought it was right”. The pitch-shifting synths mirroring the unease of watching the country being tricked into acting against its own interests and dooming itself. With recent personal tragedies weighing on him, Chandler ponders “So, what if it dies?(...)I guess it wasn't meant to survive”. The album wraps with the Eastern-tinged 'Terremoto', a kind of instrumental requiem for the planet.
A Planet Without an Atmosphere is such a lush and moving piece that it's very hard to believe in clocks in at a mere 17 minutes. Galapaghost's talent for lyrical eloquence allows him to say so much with a few lines that six short songs are all he needs to convey his story. A tale that brilliantly parallels the personal and the political with a soundscape that is on par with recent releases from dreamy psych acts like Thom Yorke. A great listen for anyone but for those who have had cancer or another life-threatening disease hit close to home, this album will resonate deeply.