John Vanderslice, Romanian Names

Anthony Mark Happel

John Vanderslice, Romanian Names [Dead Oceans]

It’s hard to fathom how commercial superstardom has, so far, eluded John Vanderslice. He’s a visionary spirit force hovering above the terrestrial plane; one that occasionally graces us with his musical presence. As a singer/songwriter/bandleader/producer, from his Tiny Telephone home studio in San Francisco, his resume is far too vast to include here.

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Though he exists primarily in the underground, his music has had a lasting ripple effect all over the musical spectrum. His keen and refined sense of melody and counter-melody is displayed in front of an expansive backdrop, with songs that draw from musical wells far and wide, along the dusty rock and folk highways of Americana. He also lights his songs with displaced urban tones of disconnection, and they actually leap to the height of rock poetry from time to time.

On this album he plays guitar and keyboards, and is joined by fourteen other musicians, not unlike Gary Lightbody’s Reindeer Section project in terms of shared communal space. Like Lightbody, Vanderslice provides a broad space on which to paint and places a ceiling on it, but he allows others the opportunity to color the walls, as it were. That approach really shines through on the Will Oldham/Bonnie Prince Billy-like “Forest Knolls,” with its rapid heartbeat rhythm, or “Carina Constellation,” which carries a classic 70s sound with it into the new millennium.

John’s vocals sound more confident, and more resigned, than ever before. That makes for some haunting work on a few of these songs, such as “Too Much Time,” which just about drips with pensive melancholy. There’s an unceasing brilliance to his music that continues to shine through the soot of the world that surrounds it. Why the hell isn’t this guy headlining at Summerfest? And Coachella? And Bonaroo?

 
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