Album review: Chad VanGaalen – "Diaper Island"

As a musician, and as someone that listens to a ridiculous amount of music, sometimes I am listening just for sounds. Sometimes the melodies and whether or not they are catchy take a backseat to the atmosphere that an album creates.

There have been times  that I’ve been so wrapped up in a band’s unique sound that it’s a week or two of non-stop listening before I start to really focus on the harmonic structure, song structure, melodies and lyrical content that is contained therein. This was precisely the case when I first heard Shellac. I remained entranced by the sound of the Travis Bean guitars and Steve Albini’s trademark recording technique sound.

Chad VanGaalen is similar in the way that his recordings have quite a distinctive sound. His production on the 2 albums by fellow Calgarians Women is noteworthy for being characteristically and decidedly lo-fi. Diaper Island takes those production values and applies them to songs that, while still existing very much in the experimental realm, are considerably less abrasive and confrontational that those of Women. The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth influence is pulled back while that of Neil Young and The Beatles is pushed a bit more to the front.

Chad-VanGaalen - "Diaper-Island"
Chad-VanGaalen - "Diaper-Island"

There is still quite a psychedelic feel to the album with noisy squeals of guitar cutting through on “Replace Me” and the swirling hypnotic backdrop of “Blonde Hash” that fights against the jangly guitar line until it’s cut out completely when the reverb drenched chorus kicks in. “Peace on the Rise” also features an interesting, harmonically disjointed line that seems to fight the song’s own gravitational pull.

The tunefulness of the songs and the noisiness of some of the odd sounds that creep in now and again are balanced well. Neither draws focus away from the other. The songs have the ability to sound haunting, catchy, sorrowful, tender and sincere. They can also wander into delicate, quiet territory or become invasive and gritty without being jarring. The combination of these affects create a powerful experience.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the closing track “Shave My Pussy” which is, honestly, a really terrific track with a folksy harp line that is plucked out, leading to a truly great chorus. This coupled with, as one can infer by the title, lyrics that are a bit odd to say the least. All in all this is a terrific album and has cemented itself as one of my favorites of the year to date.

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