John Vanderslice – Romanian Names

January 01, 1970

(Dead Oceans)


In a rock world stuffed full of Johns – Darnielle,
Frusciante, Mayer (shudder) – singer-songwriter John Vanderslice has done a
pretty good job staying relevant, innovative and consistently awesome. With six
balanced, enthralling albums under his belt, Vanderslice’s latest, Romanian Names, follows along the path Cellar Door, Pixel Revolt and Emerald City have laid out, mixing pensive, introspective lyrics with sprawling, lush
landscapes of sound that create one epic collection of 12 tracks.


Vanderslice has a habit of creating absurdly catchy,
never-leave-your-brain songs (such as “Me and My 424” from Life and Death of an American Fourtracker or “Exodus Damage” from Pixel Revolt), and Romanian Names is no different. Of the album’s dozen, a solid
majority of them are up-tempo enough to stick around in your cranium, and the
rest – the slow-burning, expansive ones – are ethereal enough to be exquisitely
memorable, too.


Things start off with “Tremble and Tear,” the echoing,
fast-paced intro during which Vanderslice excitedly claims, “Here comes the
one/ Here comes the one, the one, the one/ Yeah she’s the one/ It’s going to do
it to me, do it to me, do it to me,” over bouncing, layered synths; get better
with the buzzing, drone-like instrumentation of “D.I.A.L.O.,” which nicely
juxtaposes with Vanderslice’s proclamation that he’s going to “make it on my
own/ Forget about my home”; and reach great heights with “Sunken Union Boats,”
a straightforward, surprisingly upbeat tune for lyrics as unsettling as “Fresh
blood comes rushing back to me/ I never thought I would remember all this so
clearly/ It’s a trick of the mind.”


The album’s shining star, though, is “Too Much Time,” which
Vanderslice played for audiences during his recent tour with The Mountain Goats
(to great fanfare, of course). Though obviously not as sparse as those acoustic
performances, the song excels in studio recording, as well – supported by its
use of far-reaching, sublime-sounding synths, the song effectively contrasts an
other-worldly sound with Vanderslice’s own depressing lyrics: “Too much time,
oh-oh-oh/ Too much time gone by/ And I can’t find you if I try,” he bluntly
sings. Lyrics such as “Freedom is overrated” and “Stone by stone/ I left my
only home/ Brick by brick/ Walled myself from happiness” add to the song’s
moodiness, but it’s by far the most beautiful one on all of Romanian Names.


Though Romanian Names often dips into melancholy, it’s no big deal – Vanderslice has enough balance
in his arsenal to keep the album firmly his own. Now, if only Moon Colony Bloodbath, that EP he
recorded with The Mountain Goats about cannibalism and organ-harvesting on the
moon, could come out already…


Standout Tracks:
“Too Much Time,” “D.I.A.L.O.,” “Sunken Union Boat” ROXANA HADADI







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