Art-Rocker Turns Up the Amps

Chad VanGaalen
Diaper Island
Sub Pop

On every album since his 2005 debut, Infiniheart, Chad VanGaalen reinvented his prolific brand of art-rock, restlessly seeking new sounds and instruments to impart his surreal and soft-spoken melodies. His fourth full-length album, Diaper Island, is no exception. With cranked amplifiers and a basement full of synths, VanGaalen has created his most raw and diverse record to date.

VanGaalen stamped out almost any trace of the plinking electronics employed on his ’08 eccentric folk rocker Soft Airplane. Opening track “Do Not Fear” immediately pours on the reverb-soaked guitar that drives most of the album. Songs like “Burning Photographs” and “Replace Me” feature VanGaalen at his most direct: dry, garage-leaning chaos bridled by stomping percussion.

VanGaalen’s commanding croon also gets some serious playing time. The album’s standout ballad “Sara” swells with VanGaalen’s aching plea, “Sara, wake me up when you’re home!” His vocals carry a startling sense of urgency and passion when he has the courage to push them over the mix.

But Diaper Island isn’t devoid of VanGaalen’s penchant for the unconventional. “Can You Believe It!?” jaggedly shuffles along with distorted vocals and rambling, off-key guitar picking, before suddenly shifting gears and devolving into a grating peak of sheer noise. The album’s closer, unnervingly titled “Shave My Pussy,” reads more like a freakish postmodern short story than the bittersweet ukulele jam promised in its first few measures. The track brings disconcerting nakedness and harsh honesty to an uneasy boil as VanGaalen sings, “Baby will you love me? I’m feeling really ugly.”

Yet the raw self-indulgence manages to dazzle rather than bore, making Diaper Island another fascinating entry in Chad VanGaalen’s divisive oeuvre. It isn’t a mainstream breakthrough by any means, but VanGaalen shows that he can still keep his fans on their toes. (7/10).

—Taylor Hogshead

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