For albums exploring the concept of Big Brother, Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero takes the cake in terms of ambition and scope. But consider John Vanderslice’s new album the indie-rock equivalent of Trent Reznor’s doomsday universe. References to 9/11, paranoia and violence-all couched in Vanderslice’s non-linear, sometimes-surrealistic poetry-dot Emerald City’s lyrical landscape. But while these topics have been mined by countless artists in the past few years, Vanderslice’s take on events shines because of Emerald’s music. The 40-year-old traditionally has a keen eye for detail, but his lush new songs far surpass even 2005’s nuanced Pixel Revolt. Slow piano trickles through “Central Booking”; jungly percussion and perforated synths chatter through “Tablespoon Of Codeine”; and lovely layered harmonies drive the chorus of “Kookaburra.” It’s the fullness of that last song-and the similarly fleshed-out feel of Emerald’s highlights (the Shins-like “Time To Go” and the crunchy guitar nugget “Numbered Lithograph”) that make Emerald City a fine place to visit, indeed. (BARSUK) Annie Zaleski
The Shins’ Wincing The Night Away
The Long Winters’ Putting The Days To Bed
The Mountain Goats’ Get Lonely
IN-STORE SESSION WITH JOHN VANDERSLICE
This record seems more fleshed-out and nuanced than your previous records.
It sounds very different because it’s a band record. It was recorded with a band [and] generally live, it’s the same people. There’s only five people that play on the record. They had a much bigger hand in arranging the album than I’ve given over to anyone before. [But] sometimes I think it sounds different than any other record I’ve done, and other times I think, “Wow, this is kind of exactly the same.” [Laughs.]
What did each of your band members bring to the record?
The keyboard player, Ian [Bjornstad], really deconstructs his parts, and he is a guy who walks a tightrope. He’ll take a lot of chances in tracking. We learned that if we just keep giving him time and letting the tape roll, eventually he hits something that’s completely out and interesting and original. We really leaned heavily on him. That was a really, really interesting addition, I haven’t really played with someone whose mind works that way. The drummer, Dave Douglas, arranged a lot of the songs. He can play piano, he plays drums, he can play guitar. He’s a real schooled, technically proficient musician, who knows how to translate what should be happening in the song that maybe I don’t know how to verbalize, you know? Sometimes he was really acting as a quasi-producer on the album. Dave Broecker, we’ve been playing together for awhile. He’s just a really great bass player, he never makes mistakes. [Laughs.] He’s really funny. We tour together all the time, we like being with each other. That chemistry is a big part of how the record sounds.
Making a band record seemed pretty logical, then.
The other key member is Scott Solter, who produced and engineered the record. I’ve made records with him since Time Travel Is Lonely [in 2001], and he’s definitely very, very important to me. He was there for all the tracking. He also plays all the instruments. He knows the limits of what I do and pushes me more. I’m really lazy.
Is there any song that sticks out to you lyrically?
“The Parade” was meaningful to me because it was a surrealist, Orwellian world that this narrator was in. When I wrote the song, I thought, “Oh, this is where I should be going.” This is a really interesting space for these narrators to be in. It had an anti-government undertow because the presence of the state in this song and in every other song is just nothing but trouble. Surveillance and control. It took a long time to nail the lyrics. Then when it was done, it really offered me a guide for the rest of the songs on the record-which were more or less about surveillance and paranoia and state control. –Annie Zales