Diversions


Music Review: John Vanderslice by uncdiversions
May 20, 2009, 8:39 pm
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John Vanderslice

Romanian Names

(Dead Oceans)

Even the laziest of afternoons need a shock to the system once in a while to keep you from ending up with your eyes glazed over, drooling on the couch. This fact is also true of the calmest, relaxing indie-pop albums.

Without a thrill or two thrown down along the length of an album, a calm, melodic record can become no more useful than a recording of rainforest noises played to help insomniacs find relief.

This is not to say that the professional, polished and admittedly very good new record from Florida’s John Vanderlice is a boring listen, there are just times when the record fails to remain interesting.

By the token that Romanian Names is a decidedly back-loaded record throws its bland moments to the forefront, burying Vanderslice’s superior material in a sludge of pleasing but somewhat-sleep-inducing pop.

Opener “Tremble And Tear” features a chugging acoustic guitar part that’s so standard it feels like a stock recording and a lyrical premise about foreshadowing the speaker’s first great love. Tied together it becomes a song that’s as forgettable as it melodically soothing.

But as the album continues, Vanderslice’s exhilirating songwriting begins to show its head. “Forest Knolls” crystalizes the notion that modern-day people have lost thier self-reliance by envisioning a speaker who is unable to kill a deer. “My father’s father would have known/How to pull that wire and steady the bow/And send that arrow into her beating heart,” sings in a low tone over a pulsing heart beat on the kick drum before strings and accordion break out in full Phantom of the Opera-esque splendor. It’s a smoldering piece of post-modern guilt that hits hard because of its thrilling arrangements and Vanderslice’s startling imagery.

Moments like this aren’t rare on Romanian Names. The title track is a heartbreaking analysis of what happens to a gymnast when they fail after having worked at the craft since a very early age, and closer “Hard Times” is a gorgeous eulogy for a summer love by the sea set over strings that softly carry Vanderslice’s sentiments to sea like a message in a bottle.

But when gems like this are buried beneath passable but somewhat boring filler, it makes for a listen that’s tiring rather than rapturous. And so if you’re looking to mine the goodies of this album, it’d probably be best to do so somewhere other than your bed. Because if you do you may find your head nodding during the weaker parts.

– By Diversions Editor Jordan Lawrence

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