Chad Van Gaalen – Diaper Island (Sub Pop)

Indie king VanGaalen has already released three acclaimed albums, illustrated and animated music videos for artists including J Mascis and Holy Fuck, and recorded albums for art rock band Women. With the release of fourth album Diaper Island, he cements his status as one of the coolest kids in Calgary.

In a departure from the gentle electronica of his previous albums, VanGaalen primarily employs guitar, vocals and percussion on these twelve eerie self-recorded tracks. The album has drawn comparisons to Sonic Youth and Pavement and at times ventures into downbeat folk reminiscent of Cat Power.

VanGaalen layers vocal harmonies on opening track Do Not Fear, then treats us to a dark and mysterious bridge on Peace on The Rise before changing tack on the comparatively upbeat, frenzied pop of Burning Photographs. Heavy Stones is different again – an alt country song featuring harmonica and deft lyrics such as “I’ve been living in my head for so long I can’t remember your name.”

Online favourite, Sara, is the song that every girlfriend of a musician wishes he’d write for her. Although the chorus incongruously calls The Hollies’ hit Air That I Breathe to mind, the refrain “Sara, wake me up when you’re home” is gently captivating. Freedom for a Policeman is sung with the cheekiness of a 60s boy band, and is the first evidence of the humour promised by the album art (which features multiple exploding meat popsicles). Can You Believe It!? is even naughtier, and is accessorised with lighthearted electronic bleeps.

The album has a submerged quality, as though there is more variation here than is captured by VanGaalen’s bedroom recording. The muddy vocals are frustrating, as the snippets you can hear make you long to hear more. At last on No Panic/No Heat some beautiful lyrics are revealed before sinking into the background again on Shave My Pussy, which sounds as though it could be an insight into relationship insecurity… if you could hear the words.

For a special treat, and a deeper insight into VanGaalen’s mysterious world, check out his animated video for Peace on The Rise.

Katheryn van Beek

Click here to listen to No Panic/No Heat from Diaper Island