John Vanderslice – White Wilderness
Released on Dead Oceans January 25, 2011
John Vanderslice is the Timmy Lincecum of the San Francisco music scene. Though slightly older and favoring a croquet mallet to a baseball bat, Vanderslice is just as much of a hometown hero to many and provides just as much — if not more — of an escape for listeners and show goers alike. The best part about Vanderslice? There is no Vander-season! We are blessed with his music year round, as long as our ears will listen, our hands will clap, and our toes will tap.
Not only has Vanderslice let loose a steady stream of releases over the past eleven years, but he also is the owner of Tiny Telephone, one of San Francisco’s most esteemed recording studios. Opting for analog gear and a “sloppy hi-fi” sound, it was surprising to discover that his latest release was to be a live record, tracked over three days and backed by a full orchestra. I was expecting another polished masterpiece, subtly persistent and almost unforgivably catchy, but White Wilderness is the curve ball in the 2011 Vander Series — but one his audience is sure to connect with.
For White Wilderness, Vanderslice teamed up with the Magik*Magik Orchestra, a Bay Area collective of classically trained musicians led by artistic director Minna Choi, and did away with his own creative method. This meant abandoning virtually every impulse as a producer, engineer, and composer, and letting the pieces fully exist and evolve in the hands of twenty other individuals in a live setting. This candor and sincerity is immediately apparent on White Wilderness.
In the first track, “Sea Salt”, a piano is introduced playing broken canons and the string arrangements literally seem to float around the vocals and guitar. Much of the orchestral accompaniment on the album contains this feel. The songs give the impression of being liquid, molten and forceful. Songs like “The Piano Lesson” and “Overcoat” contain a classic Vanderslice feel, as do the majority of the tracks. The difference lies in Choi’s arrangements. They add an oddness, urgency, and overall complexity to the album that is at times eerie and dissonant, but always maintain intrigue and preserve the initial authenticity of the concept. White Wilderness is more of a happening than an album, a truly unique approach to live recording and collaboration, and an entirely new chapter in Vanderslice’s catalog. It is sure to be a pleaser to old and new fans alike.
John Vanderslice performs at The New Parish in Oakland on February 11th.