John Vanderslice Emerald City

This American songsmith is a prolific artist who has built an audience attracted to his literate approach and a production style he terms "sloppy hi-fi.” Both elements are neatly showcased on Emerald City, a stunning work worthy of serious attention. Vanderslice has a melodic yet slightly off-kilter voice, a perfect instrument for the delivery of his lyrically and musically imaginative tunes. On paper, his lyrics may occasionally flirt with pretension or forced surrealism (opening cut "Kookaburra” features frangipane trees, white phosphor rain, terabytes and the Bundestag) but on disc they are totally convincing. Feelings of paranoia, conspiracy theories and the ghosts of 9/11 populate other songs, as on "Tablespoon Of Codeine” ("so I said some things that can’t be said, about a ritual tower, the uses of more American dead”). Vanderslice and producer Scott Solter mix things up nicely, moving from moody piano and voice settings to some robust rockin’ out. This is a gem with few flaws. (Barsuk)