Monday, June 27, 2011

Diaper Island - Chad VanGaalen

Diaper Island

Chad VanGaalen
Flemish Eye Records.

SCQ Rating: 78%

Putting your finger precisely on Chad VanGaalen’s M.O. is nearly impossible, even if his various excursions (be it under his Black Mold or birth name oeuvre) share some common lineage to DIY-styled noise. On first glance, Diaper Island has the cohesive sensibilities of a songwriter who has finally taken up roots in a certain sonic domain but that would be too easy. No, this here release is but the first in a handful of forthcoming VanGaalen LPs, all grappling at different sound-environments and songwriting approaches. Should we expect any less from a man who prefers to spend his days locked away in his Calgary-based studio, jotting down and exploring the constant influx of ideas gifted to him?

VanGaalen’s first byproduct of this new organizational method, which seeks not to distil his eccentricities so much as group them into natural camps, is Diaper Island; a front-to-back rock record which spends its time courting semi-tuned Sonic Youth progressions and soulful folk balladeering. The record’s first half marries these songwriting poles best, given how the relentless melody undercutting ‘Burning Photographs’ shares the same starved emotion that basks unblemished on the acoustic ‘Sara’. Haunting but technically cerebral as well, VanGaalen intuitively tightropes between the ugly and lovely, tackling psych-addled rock riffs on ‘Blonde Hash‘ and dropping off into a transcendent ambient drag with ‘Peace On the Rise’.

More impressive than his multitracked vocals, which resonate with a choral-like depth over lackadaisical tracks like ‘Heavy Stones’ and ‘Wandering Spirits’, is VanGaalen’s chameleon-esque guitar-playing, which fully asserts itself over Diaper Island’s second half. The sequencing of these lo-fi breakdowns (‘Can You Believe It!?’) and caterwauling jams (‘Freedom For a Policeman’) feels haphazard though, distracting listeners from the early half’s even-keeled flow. But that’s VanGaalen’s token take-it-or-leave-it moment; that left-of-center insistence that marks his every release with a challenging quirk to adapt to. As his most straightforward, Diaper Island safeguards its share of oddities, making it VanGaalen’s most enjoyable full-length yet.

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