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John Vanderslice | Life and Death of an American Fourtracker (Barsuk)
Seattle's Barsuk label, home of among others Death Cab For Cutie, keeps coming up with top-notch releases as if their very lives depended on it. This is John Vanderslice's third album for the label, and his best yet. A concept album of sorts, the story which somewhat vaguely runs through the album is about a kid who battles with his own instability while trying to make it as a touring singersongwriter. A musical biography perhaps? JV is most famous, or rather infamous, for his prank against Microsoft on his first solo album 'Mass Suicide Occult Figurines'. Featuring a song called Bill Gates Must Die, Mr. Vanderslice sent out a hoax press release claiming that he'd received vague threats from Microsoft, involving threatening phone calls and email messages due to the said track. Some San Francisco newspapers picked up on it and earnestly reported the whole story, immediately thrusting the album into the limelight where it basked in great critical praise after the smoke screens had settled. However ,as the frontman of the now-disbanded experimental smart-pop band MK Ultra who released 4 highly acclaimed albums during the '90s, Vanderslice is no novice in the world of melodramatic but ultimately beautifully crafted pop music. Strings and bright trumpet arrangements are utilized to great effect throughout this album, arrangement masters like Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks spring to mind on tracks like the opener Fiend in a Cloud. Me and my 424 is a love song to a four-track recorder, ''You can ask the 424 / for guidance and for help / as it pulled me through,'' it's main musical theme is an irresistible piano lead which invariably brings me back to 'Hunky Dory'. The absorbingly witty lyrics coupled with very classic and epic tunes makes this a winner all the way, and please pay no mind to all those Elephant 6 comparisons! Friends from Mountain Goats, Spoon, Beulah, Mates of State and not least Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard help out at Vanderslice's own Tiny Telephone studio in 'Frisco. Let's hope that this album brings him the acclaim he so richly deserves.
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002