From the moment Diaper Island commences, just like a familiar sweater, the recognizable drones of Chad VanGaalen wrap themselves around the listener in a warm embrace. But while his trademark soft rock remains intact, VanGaalen’s newest studio set also charters the singer/songwriter in a desirable new direction, one crowded with attention-grabbing guitar pieces and a nimbler musical stride.
The new style fails to proclaim its presence, though, until around the halfway mark, as the opening duo of tracks “Do Not Fear” and “Peace on the Rise” provide the listener with nostalgia for 2008’s sublime Soft Airplane. By the time the busy “Burning Photographs” makes its way into your ear canals, though, a change of pace in VanGaalen’s music can be felt.
Coming in at track five, “Sara” is the first song off the album that undoubtedly possesses the characteristics it takes to be a long-term gem. The song wreaks with personal sentiment and a hint of yearning to unleash these pent up expressions onto the world. Opening with a simple symphony of whistles and acoustic accompaniment, VanGaalen creates another painfully honest lullaby for the soul.
Moments after the hopelessness of “Sara” subsides, the first glimpse of VanGaalen’s capability for rockability emerges with the forceful beat of “Replace Me,” drenching the listener with confusion as to where this side of VanGaalen has been all these years and solidifying the album as a new stage in his musical career. The remainder of Diaper Island follows this formula loosely as the tracks interweave and transition distinctively, but without stepping on each others’ toes.
A rather silly climax for the otherwise introspective and exceptional disc can be found in “Shave My Pussy,” a musical contemplation of whether love can truly overcome any obstacle, including hairy snatches. While it’s an unusual theme for VanGaalen to tackle, the execution displays such signs of sincerity that you can’t help but accept the song, not as a humour piece, but as another entry into the catalogue of how shallow love is.
Diaper Island fumes with signs of VanGaalen’s organic growth as a musician and leaves the listener marooned by the disc’s end, already lonesome for more.