Chad VanGaalen has succeeded with each of his releases in crafting songs that are poignant, and at times heartbreaking, thanks to his deeply personal approach. His sound has varied from lo-fi acoustic work to experimental synth, each release reading like a journey inside VanGaalen’s life. Everything is aimed at allowing listeners to truly know the artist’s uttermost thoughts. With his fourth release, Diaper Island, VanGaalen dives back into his familiar lo-fi acoustic territory, bringing along his signature voice as the guide.
This release sees VanGaalen leave behind his small basement studio for a larger recording space. Having just finished a stint as producer for Women’s Public Strain, it’s clear this is a more expansive VanGaalen. He certainly carried over the abrasive guitar Women are noted for (see “Burning Photographs”). At times, his songs combine the best of old and new, like album highlight “Replace Me”. Loose, fuzzy guitar surrounds crisp, lofty vocals, transitioning into steady percussion, and jangly guitar. Soaring vocals and instrumentals are a hallmark of this album, but they’re cleaner than previous recordings. His guitar strumming is more refined, at times resembling that of an early Sonic Youth, especially on “Peace On the Rise”.
When VanGaalen combines his haunting innocence as a vocalist with his intimate lyrics, he shines. “Sara” is a delicate, acoustic number with VanGaalen’s echoes to the title girl: “Sara, wake me up when you’re home.” Tracks that let you feel VanGaalen’s heartache, like “Wandering Spirits”, are when Diaper Island becomes heartbreakingly beautiful. “I don’t know when you said you would/but I feel like I’ve been waiting for awhile,” VanGaalen sings amidst slow, messy guitar.
At times, his lyrics are cryptic, and may not always be seen for their beauty and depth. Take “Shave My Pussy”, an oddly named track with a much deeper meaning. “Maybe if I shave my pussy/than you’ll love me/Baby will you love me?/I’m feeling really ugly,” VanGaalen sings. His familiar anguish as a lyricist, combined with Diaper Island’s expanded sound, gives listeners a matured VanGaalen, and one of his best releases yet.