Wednesday, May 20, 2009

freedom is overrated.

Today I recommend Romanian Names, the new album from John Vanderslice. The album officially streeted yesterday, but because of a very generous preorder offer from JV and his new label, Dead Oceans, I've been living with the album for about three weeks or so as a digital download. In that three weeks, according to my iTunes, I listened to the album in full no less than 9 times, with various tracks receiving additional single listens. Because my copy of the LP arrived this past Saturday, it is impossible to say how many times I have now listened to this album, and I'm still finding new details on which to focus with each subsequent listen. Obviously, this is going to be more of a gushy post than a professional-type review - bear with me. 

So far, this may very well be my favorite album of 2009. I have been a JV fan for many years, and have reliable fallen in love with his past several albums instantly and have come to expect a certain standard of quality and consistency from him; yet, somehow, this album took me by surprise, in spite of the implicit high expectations I already had for it. Perhaps this is partially because I was introduced to 5 of the 12 songs in stripped-down, solo acoustic form on the Gone Primitive tour; I became so intimately acquainted with 2 songs in particular over the course of the tour that I know the lyrics in full and was comfortably singing along with JV by the final night. It had gotten to the point where the only way I could conceive of these songs was in the stripped-down acoustic form; how much of a shock was it, then, when I first listened to the production on this album? JV and Scott Solter have always had a great knack for interesting production, sound design, and attention to sonic detail, but on this album more than any other in JV's catalog one can really get lost in the layers.  Speaking as an amateur (and amateurish!) home-recording musician who has a tendency to pile on layers and sculpt the sound, this album is truly a technical marvel.

Technicality aside, though, one of the big things that sets this album apart is its easy-going, breezy nature. JV has always had an undercurrent of anxiety in his solo recordings; once the post-September 11 influence began to seep into his albums starting with Cellar Door, this anxiety was amplified and moved to the foreground, culminating in Emerald City, where every song seems to be an exercise in divergent ways of channeling a jittery, anxious nervousness about a world gone wrong with no respite. Here, although many of the themes are ones that JV has explored before, he seems to be at ease and relaxed; no longer jittery, the songs feel more accepting of the things in the world that he cannot change and more at peace as a result. Even as he sings the sweetly heartbreaking album finale "Hard Times," there is a zen-like calm to his voice, as if the pain that he has traversed in getting through the hard times has left him bruised but wise, refined. The juxtaposition is fascinating - as meticulously as the album was crafted, the songwriting feels remarkably simple, non-fussed-over, natural.

It is not often that an artist writes and records the best album of his career seven albums in, but I dare say that JV has done it. I implore you all to check it out. For a preview, download Fetal Horses or my favorite song from the album, Too Much Time. If you have an eMusic account, you can download it there; or, better yet, purchase the album from Dead Oceans or directly from JV on tour (JV gives great hugs, by the way!) Speaking of tour! If anyone will be in Brooklyn on Friday, June 12, consider seeing him with The Tallest Man on Earth at the Music Hall of Williamsburg! I will be there! So will Miranda! Come hang out with us and JV! It will be a great time!

For those who have already enjoyed the album, or still need convincing, check out this utterly incredible performance of "Too Much Time" with an orchestra. It's magical. I can't wait to hear how these songs sound on stage with a band behind him.

John Vanderslice "Too Much Time" from AV on Vimeo.

1 comment:

  1. I really love this album too - and totally agree that political paranoia of past releases is gone. And now I have to write my review for Crawdaddy (due in less then 24 hours) and am grappling to find grown-up words to describe how awesome it is. So kudos to you for being so articulate, haha.


hi. please be nice, and please don't be a spamming bot or something. we really do read every comment!