Chad VanGaalen is one of those Renaissance people you find scattered through indie rock. He makes records largely on his own, playing a huge array of instruments, and then he does the artwork and the impressive animated videos himself. He made his name with three increasingly excellent albums of glow-in-the-dark, ramshackle indie pop that showcase his odd falsetto and even odder inner world. He's also the author of one of the best modern murder ballads I've heard lately in "Molten Light", from last year's Soft Airplane.
It's natural for a guy with VanGaalen's skill set to want to branch out, and so we now get Black Mold's Snow Blindness Is Crystal Antz, a collection of 19 mostly short instrumentals that give him a chance to stretch out and experiment. It makes sense to release it under the banner of an alter ego, because it really is a diversion from his output under his own name. His electro-acoustic tracks range from nicely developed pieces that skillfully blend contrasting textures and timbres to inconsequential sketches that feel like dry runs for something he might try in a more interesting song later.
On the positive side of that coin, "Metal Spider Webs" opens the album by smashing together a little cello and clarinet with a heap of chimes and bubbling synthesizer, while the synth arpeggiations and pulsing static of "Swimming to Food" telegraph a sort of lonely sadness. The longest track, "Wet Ferns", is a drifting, buzzing song that harks back to a time when people made whole albums of Ondioline music and still thought of the future as a place we were all going to. "Rotten Walls" suggests he might try composing new scores for classic arcade games. On the other hand, there are a number of tracks that don't get beyond the idea phase. "Smoking Rat Shit" and "Dr. Snouth" are sketchy glitch experiments, while "No Dream Nation" is full of seemingly random drum hits and doesn't hit its stride until it's mostly over and brings in an eerie synth solo.
The less satisfying tracks aren't all a waste, though. For instance, "Tetra Pack Heads" is a little too unfocused on its own to invite me back, but it explores some interesting individual moments and sounds I'd like to see him return to. "Toxic Lake" is an aggressively noisy percussion extravaganza he could clearly use as a blueprint in the future. Ultimately, Snow Blindness isn't essential listening for anyone but VanGaalen's most dedicated fans, but it is an enjoyable, occasionally even great record. Musicians with eclectic approaches need release valves for their excesses, and this seems to serve that function for VanGaalen. Hopefully, indulging some of his restlessness will help him come back even more focused and hungry on his next full-length under his own name.
— Joe Tangari, August 14, 2009