John Vanderslice
The Life and Death of an American Fourtracker
Barsuk
2002
B-



the songs on this album are Vanderslice’s most inventive yet. With this recording, Vanderslice takes one further step towards a sound that is most definitely his own. Each fractured time signature, every dissonant choirboy harmony, they all point to something that is distinctly Vanderslice. In addition, Vanderslice seems to be expanding his idea of creative orchestration. Horn and string arrangements pop up around the album, accenting Vanderslice’s sound environments.

That’s pretty much what Vanderslice stands for. Each song is unmistakably indie rock, but there’s a little bit of avant-garde influence here, be it in the overdriven drums in an otherwise calm song or the aforementioned dissonant harmonies. "Nikki Oh Nikki" wafts along, bringing different and conflicting voices in, distant waves, unsettling horns, all floating above analog bass.

"Me and my 424" is the bounciest rock song I have heard this year. Granted, I haven’t been paying much attention to the Kindercore folks. The song is upbeat, feisty and a little silly; it is, after all, a love song to one’s recording equipment. An obvious chord progression paves the way for sugary guitar lines and bizarre, yet catchy harmonies. The song builds and collapses on itself, the harmonies in the final chorus expressing a more complex yearning than the song hints at.

"The Mansion" is another great song. An acoustic guitar welcomes us, strummed with such valiance; you would think it was a dozen electrics. Vanderslice’s vocals move us towards a more relaxed part, then BLAM! Horns and ten-megaton drums knock us upside our heads. As we recover, beautiful analog organ tones wrap around our ears. The song is carried off with a brilliantly detached air; Vanderslice takes the massive dynamic approach to the song, but even the quiet parts seem loud, they harbor a menace you wouldn’t expect.

Unfortunately, there is plenty of filler. Take for example, the uncomfortable Prog Floyd aura to "Interlude No. 4," listening to it takes one a little too close to wankier passages of Wish You Were Here. Also, Vanderslice’s propensity towards hyperbole (lyrically and musically) begins to grate with repeated listens. Yes, John, we know drums have the capability to be that intrusive.

Vanderslice’s songs don’t always hold up so well with time, often they are built around the concept of initial surprise and thus deny themselves the ability to be great pop songs. You have to respect Vanderslice for being so open to experimentation, though.



Reviewed by: Tyler Martin
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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