Chad VanGaalen
Diaper Island


4.0
excellent

Review

by robin EMERITUS
May 26th, 2011 | 34 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

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.” It remains perhaps his most beautiful achievement in song writing, but it makes an example of a lot of the quirks found in VanGaalen: he haunts us, dazzles us, jokes with us, and at the end of the day can’t sacrifice any of those things for the other. Hence “Shave My Pussy,” right? It sounds like a joke, but if that track didn’t haunt and dazzle in equal measure, it wouldn’t be the closer to Diaper Island.

But while VanGaalen has always been brilliantly diverse like that, able to take “Willow Tree” and make it horrifically bittersweet, what is so confrontational about Diaper Island (aside from that it’s called Diaper Island) is his ability to compress his diversity into this one little style. By creating an album that revolves around nothing more than coarse, often tuneless guitar work and those hopeless lyrics, VanGaalen has every song carry the weight of “Heavy Stones” or “Sara,” or even the whacky “Can You Believe it!?” Creating such a tightly-knit record is a simple style a myriad of singer-songwriters have lived by, and in that sense Diaper Island feels just as uncompromising, if in a different way, as the equally miserable Blood on the Tracks.

There’s a lot to be said of the ugliness that plays through Diaper Island, a record that VanGaalen seems to have designed around angularity. Whereas Infiniheart and Soft Airplane sprawled through folk touchstones and warped electronic sounds at the same time, his fourth record feels constantly tied to its gritty atmosphere, able to rock out on “Freedom for a Policeman” with the same tone of bitterness that comes on a track as bare and miserable as “Heavy Stones.” And a little more on “Heavy Stones,” a track that sounds like both a surf-rock b-side for Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” and a tensely obscured Public Strain number: it takes the angular nature of Diaper Island and says something that doesn’t even sound sweet in a tragic singer-songwriter way. The lyrics, instead, are shapeless: “lately, you’ve been some other thing.” Strange, then, that lines this vague could contribute to the least mysterious Chad VanGaalen record yet, a record able to look directly to its audience in spite of its burial in guitar noise and lo-fi production.

“Shave My Pussy” stands to be misunderstood as both an outrageous suggestion and a dumb joke, but what it carries with it is the same weight “Heavy Stones" did earlier on: “maybe if I shave my pussy then you’ll love me, baby will you love me? / I’m really feeling ugly." The line is, against all odds, more heart-breaking than hilarious. It’s another declaration like the one on “Sara” to not be left behind, or the lament that he’s been waiting forever on “Wandering Spirits.” Diaper Island isn’t about taking these moments and pointing at them for how bizarre they are, hence why VanGaalen sings the lines of “Shave My Pussy” so straight-faced, and for that reason his fourth record isn’t ugly itself. It certainly thinks about ugliness and waits on it with all the honesty with which VanGaalen can deliver lines about his hypothetical pussy, but the music VanGaalen makes isn’t as ugly as it feels it is, is only vague if vagueness can touch you, and is only ghostly if we’re all having the same warped hallucinations our songwriter is. Diaper Island is a very open wound, and those who listen won’t have to seek it out.



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user ratings (40)
Chart.
3.9
excellent
other reviews of this album
missthedudeman (4.5)
Chad VanGaalen crafts his most guitar-oriented/rock album to date; also his most cohesive....

related reviews

Infiniheart

Soft Airplane

Comments:Add a Comment 
SeaAnemone
May 26th 2011


20824 Comments


Robin Smith strikes again

Diaper Island?
Shave My Pussy?

there's gotta be some mistake here...

sounds interesting though, at the very least. I didn't love Public Strain but I'll check this out : )

Drsmith4
May 26th 2011


1717 Comments


This guy sounds like he has a vulgar sense of humor.

Pubic Strain.

AggravatedYeti
May 26th 2011


7685 Comments


: )

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
May 26th 2011


15743 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this is pretty cool from what ive heard. not public strain quality, but fun stuff. 4.5 seems a little steep from what ive heard thus far, but i'll revisit cuz robin

robin
Emeritus
May 26th 2011


4257 Comments


i could drop it to a 4 for objectivity but i feel like people can downgrade it themselves. this was so so so hard to write.

scissorlocked
May 26th 2011


3511 Comments


great review Robin,I found your take on this interesting

album has an even weirder feeling than Soft Airplane, which became really haunting after a couple of listens

Digging: Distance - Outer Limits

klap
Staff Reviewer
May 26th 2011


10543 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

hypothetical pussy

Digging: Jessie Ware - Tough Love

robin
Emeritus
May 26th 2011


4257 Comments


so proud of myself

WeepingBanana
May 26th 2011


10205 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

lol soft airplane is one of the creepiest albums ever

this is pretty solid so far though

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
May 26th 2011


20857 Comments


Any relation to Eddie?

Kodan
May 26th 2011


20 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great album; not as good as Infiniheart but still pretty great.

robin
Emeritus
May 27th 2011


4257 Comments


dave, i doubt it. but i clearly would never do that much research.

wabbit
May 27th 2011


7020 Comments


tagline said "public strain" so I clicked on it. Sounds like my cup of tea.

Spec
May 28th 2011


27269 Comments


Calgary rules.

Digging: Midnight - No Mercy for Mayhem

iarescientists
May 28th 2011


5863 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i wish this were more cohesive, but it has some really good tracks on it.

sara makes me swoon and peace on the rise sounds like a public strain b-side which is awesome

thebhoy
Emeritus
May 29th 2011


4461 Comments


yeah this reminds me a lot of Public Strain... which is to say I don't think it's that great.

Lucid
Contributing Reviewer
May 30th 2011


7026 Comments


If this sounds like Public Strain then I'm staying far, far away.

WeepingBanana
May 30th 2011


10205 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

it's better than public strain

iarescientists
June 1st 2011


5863 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

shut up

WeepingBanana
June 1st 2011


10205 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

no but really



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