After the heartfelt political narratives of 2007’s Emerald City, John Vanderslice has delivered an album where melody is foregrounded and words are allowed to form almost as afterthoughts. This allows Vanderslice to create some of the strongest songs in his canon, with the usual assortment of delirious characters and beautiful-sad moments of insight combining with reinforced song structures and perfectly constructed instrumental layers.
Tremble and Tear” submerges Vanderslice’s words under a thin atmosphere of chirping acoustic guitars and vibrant ebow notes sustained, seemingly, throughout the song. The breathless instrumentation highlights the humanity of the vocals, making an oft-repeated phrase (“Yeah, she’s the one”) feel entirely fresh. “Fetal Horses,” an early highlight on a disc full of extremely listenable tunes, mixes wobbly guitar flourishes and otherworldly, chiming synthesizers with surrealistic imagery (“Fetal horses gallop in the womb”) for a charmingly catchy dose of melancholy. “Carina Constellation” finds an army of lovelorn voices stuck in the mirrored, fractured realm of recurring nightmares driven by a trebly drum set and unfaltering piano line. “Forest Knolls” strips away the lush instrumentations and allows Vanderslice’s wavering, layered vocals to glide above a slight electronic pulse and blinkering keyboard. The track crests and crescendos into seismic bursts of strings and guitars as the lyrics are completely abandoned. The sleepy drone of “Hard Times” is occasionally reminiscent of Arthur Russell, with its brittle strings awash in an ocean of silences. And the bare acoustic guitar lullaby “Romanian Names” fully displays Vanderslice’s uncanny ability to write the sort of lovely, off-kilter songs that feel at once effortless and full of life.
Favorite Track: “Fetal Horses”
Reviewer Bio - Christopher j Ewing is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles with a girl and a designer dog. He is in a band by himself, has a myspace account at www.myspace.com/wastedpotentialproduction and a production company at (www.wastedpotentialproductions.com) for freelance film, video and journalism work.