John Vanderslice – White Wilderness

January 01, 1970

(Dead Oceans)


The opening seconds could be from any Vanderslice
release in recent memory, a weary sigh of “Sun shines on the Gaza Strip” backed
by a gently strummed acoustic. Then, the orchestration of the 19-member
Magik*Magik Orchestra asserts itself, and by the time the strings begin to
swell, it’s pretty clear that this collaboration is as far outside his comfort
zone as the studio obsessive has allowed himself to stray.


Arranged by Minna Choi, who also sings on several
tracks, the orchestration is definitely on the lush side, more in keeping with
the spirit of Phil Spector’s work on “Let It Be” than anything George Martin
might have done – which is to says, surprisingly old-fashioned (even older
fashioned than that Morning Benders song). But it works, underscoring the
bittersweet vulnerability in Vanderslice’s voice on such obvious highlights as
that first track, “Sea Salt,” and the melancholy title track, where he
practically sounds like he’s choking back tears while the orchestration makes
it feel like something Randy Newman might have written for the most depressing
Pixar movie ever. It’s gorgeous, one of several tracks that feel like outtakes
from St. Vincent’s “Actor” in the best way possible. There are times when Choi
sounds like she’s overdoing it a bit, but even then, the exercise is not
without its charms (see “Convict Lake” or “The Piano Lesson”).


Salt,” “White Wilderness” A. WATT


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