Record Review: John Vanderslice

John Vanderslice
White Wilderness
Gainesville, FL

“Matured indie legend becomes an orchestra-driven nightingale.”

There’s no question White Wilderness is a mature leap forward for Gainesville native John Vanderslice. Some linkage to the earlier Barsuk-era can be found: strummy acoustic rhythms, fragile competent lyrics and Vanderslice’s distinctive crackling voice. Symphonic nuances fringe White Wilderness with a degree of complexity previously unmet by the artist. Most admirable is the finessing of the large ensemble such that it feels intimate, Vanderslice’s softened voice hovering over two-dozen musicians (strings, woodwinds and brass).

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The symphonic interweave is produced by an unreleased chamber outfit, Magik Magik Orchestra. They happen to be conducted by Minna Choi, who lends her voice to the release, creating a harmonic contrast to Vanderslice. The ensemble instrumentation pairs with Vanderslice’s tone in elegant juxtaposition, particularly on “Overcoat” and “The Piano Lesson.” The latter, a contemporarily moody piece doesn’t warrant a traditional melismatic voice (Vanderslice isn’t an operatic singer). Throughout, Vanderslice casually shows that his conversational sparkling tone can glide with the textured whispering scenery produced by the orchestra.

Customarily, singers who attempt the orchestra union spend years fine-tuning their voice to match the complex ebbs – Vanderslice recognizes the limits and contrasts the ensemble, creating one of the most dramatic and listenable albums of his career. (Dead Oceans Records)

Engineered and produced by John Congleton with Ian and Jay Pellicci // Recorded at Fantasy Recording // Mixed at Tiny Telephone by John Congleton // Mastered at Bernie Grundman
-Christopher Petro

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