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John Vanderslice – Romanian Names

Released on Dead Oceans, 5/19/09

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

I am going to be honest with you and let you know how many times I get “White Dove” from John Vanderslice’s last album Emerald City stuck in my head: probably about six times a week. And I haven’t even listened to that album in over a year. This particular earworm is the most persistent one I have had in some time and it has become my mantra as I move through this life.

Just when I was beginning to wonder if I should walk around John Cusak-style, boom box over head, “White Dove” blaring from the speakers while I parade back and forth outside of John Vanderslice’s house so we can have a shared understanding of my current existence, his latest album, Romanian Names, is released. Uh-oh.

Romanian Names contains about 764 of those catchy little hooks that love to dig their grappling hooks into our heads. Wanting to disrupt the comfort and convenience of his typical writing processes, Vanderslice wrote the majority of the songs away from the San Francisco recording studio he owns and operates, Tiny Telephone, and instead recorded stripped down versions of the tracks at home, being carefully conscious of the songs from their very inception and throughout their entire process.

This lends to a thoughtfulness that is inherent in each track. Directed and purposeful -- the album moves tank-like from track to track. With twelve tracks totaling just over thirty-seven minutes, Romanian Names is a rapid-fire force to be reckoned with. The signature lilts in Vanderslice’s voice on songs like “Sunken Union Boat”, “D.I.A.L.O.”, and the opening track “Tremble and Tear” slay me every time, adding such longing to the tightness of the composition in a wonderful juxtaposition of feeling and experience.

The tracks are light, almost floating in the air as they drift from the speakers, with a focused determination that comes from someone truly involved in the perfection of a craft. Romanian Names is a wonderful example of some of the vibrant and vital music coming from the Bay Area as of late. A strong, solid release and a very enjoyable listen.