Every so often, Chad VanGaalen emerges from his bunker in Calgary with a batch of songs, giving us a window into the private world of this reclusive and enigmatic songwriter. WithDiaper Island, VanGaalen distills his approach, producing his most sonically cohesive album to date, and the closest thing he has done to a rock album.

While VanGaalen’s three previous records were made in a cramped basement studio, a move to a larger recording room offered space to develop and refine his sound. Fresh from producing the critically-lauded Public Strain album by Women, VanGaalen decided to avoid the comfort of working on previous ground, and apply some of the recording techniques and sonic ideas that emerged from those sessions. For the first time, multi-tracked and often overdriven guitar is the instrument at the center of the songs, which are often Spartan and free of the melodic details that embellished previous albums. With this focus on guitar, combined with a beloved vintage tape machine determining the sound, VanGaalen moved towards a leaner, no-frills approach—one that more closely resembles the music that influenced him as a teenager, while continuing the arc laid out in his previous work.

The paradox of trying to assert control in a climate of helplessness winds through the album, whether in the existential pondering on life and death that often pervades VanGaalen’s songs (“Do Not Fear,” “Replace Me”), or in the conflict between control and creativity (“Freedom for a Policeman,” “No Panic, No Heat”). At the album’s heart is “Sara,” a simple and celebratory paean that gorgeously praises the ability of VanGaalen’s partner and muse to nurture his creativity in the face of this uncertainty, and captures the songwriter at his most sincere and powerful.

At this point Chad VanGaalen may perhaps be better known for his illustrative rather than his musical output. As was the case with all of his previous albums, VanGaalen has illustrated all of the art for Diaper Island himself. He’s also in the midst of animating a music video as well. His past videos have been collectively viewed well over a million times on Youtube. He’s also animated music videos for folks like J Mascis, Guster and Holy Fuck.

VanGaalen has been quietly building a catalog of songs, illustrations, and animations that invite listeners to gently explore his distinctive creativity. Diaper Island extends the adventure into deeper territory, tapping into VanGaalen’s lifeblood and mining the richness of his mind with sharper tools.

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