Hot on the heels of producing Women’s excellent Public Strain in 2010, Chad VanGaalen went back to his studio to work on Diaper Island. Between his last solo album (2008’s Soft Airplane) and this album, his sound changed drastically. It’s almost laughable how much his abilities have improved behind the board in only three years. It’s the distance between thin Daniel Johnston cassette recordings and fat George Martin Abbey Road reel-to-reel tapes. His ability to make his Calgary-based shack of a studio, Yoko Eno, sound big and roomy is remarkable as he turns garage rock and sparse indie pop into visceral three-dimensional soundscapes by using varying degrees of reverbs and reflections. Echo chamber reverb is a hot trend of 2011, and VanGaalen splashes it on thick, but never washes out instruments while doing so. The creepy yet creamy mood that he achieves is totally unique. In a way, Diaper Island is a perfect sonic counterpart to Public Strain. The haunting, chilly climate is the same, odd guitar tunings are repeated, many of the instruments and amps appear to be the same vintage brand, and the hard, crunchy manner of playing is identical. While both angle toward rock in a melancholy vibe, VanGaalen’s songs, which are all performed on his own, are a little less dissonant and he overdubs a wider range of instruments, from homemade bass pedals, thumb pianos, and keyboards. Hard to imagine any of his future albums beating this one, but it’s entirely possible, and all signs seem to point toward this inventive young producer/songwriter being on the rise.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Lymangrover