Release Date: May 17, 2011
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Chad VanGaalen often has the air of a musician who’d rather be left alone. Not to brood or to mope, but to reflect on the vagaries of his existence, as if searching for a clear pathway through the labyrinth that unravels between cradle and grave. Music, it just so happens, is the conduit that allows him to express the fruits of his contemplation; the one channel through which he can broadcast his fears and frustrations.
Review Summary: a dark and direct record from the guy who helped obscure "Public Strain" Chad VanGaalen comes to us with an air of mystery. His hand in producing Public Strain helped disguise a record of conflict we only got revealed when the lyrics jumped out of line, and in his career as a composer his music has been no easier to take in. “Willow Tree,” a track that dealt with dark metaphors of death and the afterlife, was played jubilantly on banjo and sung halfway between melancholy and joy: “And when I die / I’ll hang my head beside the willow tree.
Hot on the heels of producing Women’s excellent Public Strain in 2010, Chad VanGaalen went back to his studio to work on Diaper Island. Between his last solo album (2008’s Soft Airplane) and this album, his sound changed drastically. It’s almost laughable how much his abilities have improved behind the board in only three years. It’s the distance between thin Daniel Johnston cassette recordings and fat George Martin Abbey Road reel-to-reel tapes.
In addition to turning in three very solid albums of his own in the past few years, Chad VanGaalen also produced fellow Albertans Women. The two albums he made with that band in his basement were distinctly homespun and lo-fi sounding, but packed with some of his characteristic idiosyncrasies-- from recording on boomboxes to unexpected appearances of synth to flourishes of odd percussion. There was a sense that Women were being let into VanGaalen's world rather than the other way around.
Since this Canadian renaissance man last released an album, he’s produced a pair of records by Calgary’s dearly departed Women. It’s unsurprising, then, that ‘Diaper Island’ sounds like a natural companion to last year’s ‘Public Strain’. Sweeter than its landfill-conjuring name suggests, ‘Diaper Island’ supplies the harsh guitar harmonics, reverb and claustrophobic atmosphere VanGaalen does best, but aligns them with some of his prettiest songs – ‘Heavy Stones’ is like Band Of Horses with a huge drug habit, while ‘Can You Believe It!?’ is messed-up psychedelic pop that channels Elephant 6’s most unhinged moments to thrilling effect.
For a few years now, Chad VanGaalen has been churning out folk rock steeped in home-recording techniques and dark, death-obsessed lyrics. But that doesn’t mean that VanGaalen’s albums are difficult, abrasive affairs on the order of early Smog albums -- also home-recorded and also lyrically dark. VanGaalen’s bright, layered sound belies its bedroom origins as much as his earnest, wounded vocals contradict his morbid lyrics.
CHAD VANGAALEN plays the Great Hall on June 18 as part of NXNE. Rating: NNN It doesn't feel right to call Chad VanGaalen a folk musician, though he has delivered his fair share of Harvest-inspired lo-fi acoustic balladry. He leaves that almost entirely behind on his fourth album, Diaper Island, which, despite the title and fact that VanGaalen is a new dad, has little or nothing to do with babies.