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John Vanderslice 

Emerald City (Barsuk)

Wednesday, Aug 8 2007
This latest disc from San Francisco singer, songwriter, and audio auteur John Vanderslice was born from mitigating circumstances, mostly having to do with his French girlfriend being denied a visa by immigration authorities. Apparently the legal limbo had a tumultuous effect on his psyche, because it reverberates in Emerald City's skittish melodies and unmistakable sense of disconnect.

Given his knack for quirky discourse and obtuse imagery, Vanderslice has never been the most accessible artist, but his lilting tunefulness and self-effacing charm have proved increasingly endearing over the course of half a dozen outings. Emerald City doesn't vary from that earlier template, but its shifting tales told from troubled perspectives — reflections on 9/11, the folly of a foreign war, a kidnapped daughter who turns up dead, and an omnipresent paranoia — create a haunting residue.

Despite the occasional glimpse of optimism, specifically the sense of renewal that accompanies the puckish lure of "The Parade," it's a darker demeanor that prevails. Sometimes the tone is deliberate, as in the edgy, agitated "Numbered Lithograph" ("I've never been lonelier"), but mostly it's more diffused, as evoked in the wistful lope of "The Minaret" ("I can see both sides and it paralyzed me inside").

Ultimately, Vanderslice circles back to confront his calamitous situation head-on, fueling the dogged sway of the final entry, "Central Booking." "The whole mess could sink me again/ Held up at Kennedy/ Sent back to De Gaulle/ Looks like September has won again," he moans, exiting the album as uncertainly as he started.

About The Author

Lee Zimmerman


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