John Vanderslice is like a fine wine. His latest, Emerald City, is no exception. The first listen won’t draw you in like a lot of pop music. It takes a few spins to fully understand just how good Vanderslice is.
This nine-song album is a songwriter’s textbook on how to write the perfect indie song. Vanderslice’s intelligence fills every line of every song and reverberates in his subtle low-key voice that makes him sound as if he is intentionally trying not to be noticed. But it’s impossible not to notice.
On “The Parade” he sings about how 9-11 no longer means much because no one’s “sure what really happened on that day,” but “I got steel dust in a vial/ And anodized tiles/ In my pocket from tower 2.”
“White Dove” is a somber reality check about the “walking bombs” in the Middle East and wondering “who could do such a horrible crime?” “Numbered Lithograph” is like a country song, as he loses his cheating girlfriend and his other friends only to do an entire verse about a bird that flew in his house, panicked and ran himself into the window over and over again. Each of these moments he exclaims, “I’ve never been lonelier.” Each of these moments demonstrates Vanderslice’s innate ability to reel you in and make you feel exactly what he is feeling.
Emerald City, which is named after the Green Zone in Iraq, is literate indie music from one of the most underrated singer/songwriters in the business. John Vanderslice may paint a sobering picture of life on this album, but at least he sings the truth.