John Vanderslice

Emerald City (Barsuk)

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

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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 proven increasingly endearing. Emerald City, his sixth album, doesn't vary from that earlier template, but tells shifting tales from troubled perspectives. Subjects like reflections on 9/11, the folly of a foreign war, and a kidnapped daughter who turns up dead, as well as an omnipresent sense of paranoia, create a haunting residue. Sometimes the darker demeanor is deliberate, as on the edgy, agitated "Numbered Lithograph" ("I've never been lonelier"), but mostly it's more diffuse. 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 entered.

 
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