Alberta’s subterranean, sound sorcerer Chad Van Gaalen is as known for his refusal to stagnate or conform to structure as he is for his songs. The time he spends in his underground lair – exploring the limits of his solo persona or under the guise of his synth moniker Black Mold – results in an audio horn of plenty, overflowing with hissed filled fragments of noise and emotion that jump from touching Young inspired folk melodies to spiky chords fused with ice cold programming constantly.
With the release of his 4th LP, the awfully titled Diaper Island, it’s obvious that something’s different. Perhaps it was the time Chad spent helping bands find their sound or just the simple, human need for change. Either way, instead of randomly connected thoughts, Diaper Island shows a focus and restraint not yet heard from Van Gaalen. There are still sonic blips and tears in the fabric so to speak. “Can you believe it!?” chugs along with a relatively simple riff but CVG bombards the punchy strums with an endless barrage of noise. “Wandering Spirits” resists the urge to run out of the gate, instead adding beautiful double tracked vocals to warm the experience, but CVG randomly switches gears with a cinematic breakdown at the midway point and a hit of electro-amphetamines that abruptly start, go nowhere and quickly (like 4 seconds later) stop to close out the song. There are huge tectonic movements, but to be fair, these incongruities and ripples are few and far between.
More striking is Chad’s development as a story teller. His normally clouded, death obsessed lyrics show anger and heartfelt sympathy for the characters he introduces. I never expected to become attached to a character he presented, but despite the shocking title, “Shave My Pussy”, is heartfelt, sad and ultimately honest story from the point of view of an ugly woman wanting desperately to be loved. That connection is a new weapon in Chad’s arsenal and really, it’s the tip of the iceberg. Chad still ponders existence and fears mortality, but this record goes deeper than late night paranoia and appealing stoner philosophy.
Diaper Island isn’t meant to be pretty, and it’s certainly not meant to be a continuation of the success he found on the epic Soft Airplane. Chad still wrestles with convention – and the nuances and interesting sonic discoveries are still there to be heard – but for the first time, he seems to come out of top. Diaper Island might not have the searing, soaring highs we’ve heard in the past, but it’s his most consistent record to date and the subdued beauty of “No panic/No heat”, “Peace on the Rise” and “Sara” reward the listener in delightful, unexpected ways.