Chad VanGaalen – Diaper Island (Sub Pop)
July 10, 2011 by Kris Lavin
From a home studio, somewhere in Calgary, Chad Vangaalen makes music. Lots of music. Since 2004, he’s released three albums with Sub Pop under his own name, and another under the alias of Black Mold, as well as producing Women’s latest album and allegedly recording several hours of material which may never be released.
It’s easy, then, to imagine that picking a coherent sequence of songs for an album could be a pretty daunting task for VanGaalen, and his last three albums have sounded a little like musical bags of pick ‘n’ mix. Poignant, acoustic songs seasoned with banjo and glockenspiel clashed with drum machines and synths on every other track. They were decent, but they lacked continuity.
Diaper Island, on the other hand, is a complete package. The opener greets you with a warm embrace of rumbling drums and soaring Fleet Foxes-esque vocal harmonies, before gently nudging you towards the hypnotic, dream-like guitar riff of ‘Peace on the Rise’, which fades into ‘Burning Photographs’, serving as an abrasive, yet attention-grabbing, change of pace, with its crunchy guitars and compelling drum beat. Track after track weave softly into and around each other, and every now and then Vangaalen throws a curveball at you, disrupting the album’s generally breezy demeanour with a jolt of fuzzy guitar or electronic bleeps, as heard in ‘Can you believe it!?’. However, rather than feeling out of place, this only adds texture to the piece as a whole.
The high points are ‘Sara’ and the closing song, ‘Shave My Pussy’. The former is simply a very well crafted song, beginning with a rather sad whistling solo, followed by a couple of verses of offbeat chords and simple vocals, and then blossoming into an innocent but haunting chorus of “Sara, wake me up when you’re home”, in the midst of swirling banjos and guitars. The latter is brilliant, not only because of the odd title, but because of the intelligent and witty lyrics, and the prominence that is given to them thanks to the sparse musical arrangement. VanGaalen provides an entertaining and well-observed glimpse into the unfortunate life of an unattractive woman, and her quest for love: “Maybe if I shave my pussy/then you’ll love me/Baby, will you love me?/I’m really feeling ugly.” as well as her ineptitude during every day situations, “Her credit card was worn out/embarrassment at the checkout/all she needed was some honey/the line-up was getting impatient.”
Diaper Island is Chad VanGaalen’s best release so far, as well as his most accessible. This is owing largely to its overall feeling of completeness, but also to the high quality of pretty much every song on the album. The fact that VanGaalen played every instrument, sang, and produced the album is mind-boggling, but it shows – the songs on Diaper Island are so intricate that they’re clearly the result of a lot of deliberation.