Tonight I’ll go to Bloomington, Ind., to see the final date of John Vanderslice and John Darnielle’s (of the Mountain Goats) “Gone Primitive” tour, where the pair will perform individual acoustic sets at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.
According to my Last.fm stats, Vanderslice and the Mountain Goats are among the five artists I listen to most on my computer, so this billing is a match made in heaven. I’ve long counted Darnielle among my favorite songwriters, but in the past couple of years I’ve grown increasingly fond of Mr. Vanderslice and his crystalline, heartrending recordings.
Vanderslice will release his first full-length album in two years, Romanian Names, on Bloomington’s Dead Oceans label on May 19. The label has posted a preview MP3, “Fetal Horses,” which you can download here.
Among those familiar with his work, Vanderslice is known for his studio chops — a not altogether surprising fact when you learn Vanderslice owns a highly regarded recording facility, Tiny Telephone, in San Francisco. Vanderslice has recorded albums for a number of household-name indie artists, including the Moutain Goats, Spoon, Death Cab For Cutie and others. Along the way he pioneered a signature style using all-analog equipment that either he or somebody else coined “sloppy high-fi.” Vanderslice’s own recordings have grown increasingly less sloppy over the years, culminating with his 2007 release “Emerald City,” which sounds downright pristine, almost as if it was dipped in chrome.
According to Dead Oceans, Romanian Names marks a new direction for Vanderslice, who wrote all of the songs on piano or guitar in a makeshift basement studio prior to even setting foot in Tiny Telepone. The result, Dead Oceans says, is a Vanderslice album that’s unusually light on knob-twiddling-as-songwriting and features a renewed “emphasis on melody and structure.”
To these ears, “Fetal Horses” doesn’t sound appreciably different from prior Vanderslice recordings — and that’s cool with me. I’ll buy it regardless, as Vanderslice is one of only three or four artists whose new releases inspire me to head to the record store on release day. In the meantime, I’ll continue promoting him to anyone who will listen (or read). He’s an underappreciated talent whose songs — narratively compelling, beautifully sung and, more often than not, uncommonly moving — burrow into your brain like poetry.