a lot of orchestra which I can go for at times but not here
mostly too mellow
nothing I liked

Grade 1.3

released Jan 25th, 2011

from the album - Sea Salt - 1.5


from all music


Raised in Florida, Georgia, and Maryland, indie rock innovator John Vanderslice grew up listening to a mix of Led Zeppelin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Kinks, and Southern rock, which instilled an eclectic musical vocabulary that informed his own songwriting. Forced into piano lessons as a child, he eventually picked up the guitar in the eighth grade and formed several bands during his teen years. His songwriting added influences from David Bowie, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, King Crimson, XTC, and early Genesis, culminating in his five-year tenure with the much-heralded experimental pop band MK Ultra. Their collaboration produced three well-received albums and resulted in an opening spot on two Sunny Day Real Estate American tours.

Meanwhile, Vanderslice also started Tiny Telephone, a small San Francisco recording studio, in 1997. Boasting a variety of respected and experienced house engineers, Tiny Telephone gained a reputation as an affordable recording outlet for the city's indie rock community. It also produced Vanderslice's solo debut, Mass Suicide Occult Figurines, in 2000. The album drew a substantial amount of critical praise for its meticulously crafted pop-perfect sound. The prolific Vanderslice issued the Time Travel Is Lonely and Life and Death of an American Fourtracker LPs over the next two years, and solidified his reputation as a literate, ever-curious songwriter and sonic technician. As he experimented with character-driven themes, he recorded the brilliantly convoluted Cellar Door in 2004 and Pixel Revolt in 2005. A series of tours followed.

In July 2007, Barsuk Records released Emerald City, yet another highly conceptual endeavor hailed for its politically charged lyrics and subtle mix of electronics and acoustic guitars. Romanian Names followed in 2009. For his next release, Vanderslice collaborated with Minna Choi and her Magik*Magik Orchestra, as well as producer John Congleton. Together, the musicians recorded White Wilderness in three days, releasing it in early 2011 via the Dead Oceans label.

Album Review

John Vanderslice's 2011 album finds him starting off a new year with engaging focus -- not least because the release is barely over a half an hour long. White Wilderness feels like something from an earlier time not just in brevity, but also thanks to the cover design, the orchestral accompaniment, and more -- it's not that he's become Sinatra, but over the nine songs of the release he brings his ruminative, elegant creative ear to some excellent partners in the Magik Magik Orchestra. The fantastic instrumental break on the opening "Sea Salt," strings and horns swirling to a quick punctuation before the vocals return, makes an immediate mark, with the arrangement on "Overcoat" coming not far behind in terms of enjoyable drama. Vanderslice's soft, sometimes cracking voice remains the understandable focus but in a world of sighing dullards he possesses both the knowledge of how best to use his voice as well as great words to sing. To quote a representative lyric from "Convict Lake": "Small black X on the edge of the camp/I couldn't wait to fall off the map." "After It Ends," consisting only of vocals and acoustic guitar, allows Vanderslice the chance to show his core strengths almost by means of contrast; even if that's seen to be his kind of aesthetic to begin with, it's a stellar example of same, with the sense of hopefulness in the singing working against what is a not as hopeful lyric. The title track, piano, strings, and woodwinds combining to create a fragile feeling that almost couldn't be called anything other than wintry, feels like a lost recording from the late '50s on the one hand (the vibes are a killer touch) while being of its moment on the other, at one point pulling back completely to let Vanderslice's singing step fully forward.

Track Listing

1 Sea Salt Vanderslice 4:22
2 Convict Lake Vanderslice 3:44
3 White Wilderness Vanderslice 3:53
4 The Piano Lesson Vanderslice 3:42
5 After It Ends Vanderslice 2:20
6 Overcoat Vanderslice 3:20
7 Alemany Gap Vanderslice 2:40
8 English Vines Vanderslice 3:20
9 20k Vanderslice 4:26