Upon initial listen to indie-folk troubadour John Vanderslice's latest, Emerald City, I am tempted to start jotting down names like Sufjan Stevens or Elliott Smith, but it would be too easy for me further compare Vanderslice with those other musicians, but it is a place to start when trying to decide how to compartmentalize this album.
Qualifying aside, Emerald City is a gorgeously produced album with all the purity and surface innocence of a dandelion. It is strangely familiar and yet foreign. Just when things seem to be going the way of most pop songs, Vanderslice shows a new wrinkle. Although the album seems to be a bit front-loaded, and stales after the first four tracks, standouts like "The Parade" with its sunny '60s pop-grooves morph into electronic deep breaths, while exhaling a rich lyrical narrative that explores September 11. "And what was there to commemorate / and what was left to remember / not really sure what happened on that day / got steel dust in a vial / had nice tiles / in my pocket/ from tower two." This is all done with a moody sleight of hand, and goes from glee to gloom subtly, making an otherwise ordinary, good song, great. Other tracks, like "White Dove," and "Kookaburra" hold firmly with the nice surprises, while others like "Tablespoon of Codeine," overdo the September 11 events like a Dubya speech. I'm not sure if this was supposed to be a concept album, but if it is, that fact was lost on me. This album seems better taken in small doses. Even with its shortcomings, Emerald City has some remarkable material, and each track deserves a listen.