On first inspection any album called Diaper Island would likely fall into one of two categories: slightly loopy comedy record (think Goldie Lookin' Chain), or an obscure chillout album for infants. Thankfully Chad VanGaalen's fourth solo album avoids these pitfalls to produce a more grown up and folk based sound than some of his earlier work.
The Calgary based songwriter has also made a name for himself as a producer and artist. While previous musical ventures have sounded more like pet projects, Diaper Island takes a more consistent and somewhat lo-fi approach to create his best album to date. At times sounding like the forgotten progeny of Neil Young and the Fleet Foxes, the mainly folk tinged rock found here relies less on vocal effects and electronic trickery, in truth VanGaalen sounds more comfortable with his new songs.
Opener 'Do Not Fear' builds quickly with a drumbeat complimented by guitars and feedback. As the slightly distant vocal appears there's a calming effect created by the multi-tracked harmonies employed. It's a short statement of intent, but it does set the scene for the following 11 songs and the more straightforward approach that VanGaalen is taking.
'Burning Photographs' ups the tempo slightly to add urgency to the proceedings. Despite the almost punk feeling to the swiftly delivered lyrics, thematically they present a tribalism that could be loosely linked to the album title. "We lived our lives in sight of the sun, and we ate our skin that we shared in the temple." There's a joyous feeling about the track, but the mood changes suddenly as it's followed by the far more laid back folk of 'Heavy Stones'.
The emotional core of the record is 'Sara' a ballad that stands as the most accessible track here. It's the kind of song that would fir perfectly on any of the more popular indie folk albums of recent years. VanGaalen's songwriting is most effective when it's less abstract and more personal which is illustrated perfectly here. The album continues to veer from louder more rock influenced songs ('Replace Me', Freedom For A Policeman') to the more folky fare ('Wandering Spirits', 'No Panic,No Heat'). Along the way there are some quirkier moments such as the 2001; A Space Odyssey soundalike vocal drone used in the background of 'Blonde Hash', or the effects used in the curiously titled 'Shave My Pussy'.
Overall the album is given some vintage authenticity by the lo-fi and slightly muddy sounding reel to reel recordings presented here. While it's a more concise set of songs than VanGaalen's previous albums and does stand as his best work, some of the scatterbrain charm that he possessed before does seem to have fallen by the wayside. These songs may well set the tone for his future work though, with the sessions reportedly bringing to fruition far more material than just a single disc.