[sic] Magazine

John Vanderslice – White Wilderness

Recorded in San Francisco with 19 members of Minna Choi ‘s Magik Magik Orchestra , White Wilderness is prolific singer-songwriter John Vanderslice ‘s eighth solo album since the year 2000.

Captured in just three days, it’s an album free from post-production and knob twiddling – one in which Vanderslice’s effortless voice occasionally cracks over his lyrics. And, in their raw state, his words are all the more effective, allowing a beautiful sense of realism and intimacy to be imbued into his 9 tracks.

Opening with the warm alt-folk of “Sea Salt”, the cleverly layered idiosyncrasies of Andrew Bird , or even Sufjan Stevens are brought to mind with the backing of diaphanous strings. Later, “After It Ends” continues this folky feel, charming the listener with its dog-eared construct and orchestral polish. Later still, the relaxed, summery shuffle of “Alemany Gap” places the listen back amongst similar company as it simmers on reeds and gentle percussion.

The honey-toned horns of “Convict Lake” add a certain playfulness to proceedings, the string spirals and spikes of which suggest at an affinity with Owen Pallett ‘s rich compositions. The title track, however, is a more subdued affair that is largely tickled out on piano. It’s less a moment of variety, and rather an extract that confirms White Wilderness as a suite of songs rather than a regular album – the strength of the fluid running order going as far as to suggest at an underlying concept or theme.

Choi steps out from behind the project’s artistic direction to offer sweet vocal backing to the textural cut “The Piano Lesson”, a track which dances like a cartoon score in places, tiptoeing around and jumping out from behind corners with its choice of instrumentation.

Next, “Overcoat” seems to run with three ideas at once, the blend containing elements of a tight instrumental score, 60s girl group drumming (albeit seemingly played out on cardboard boxes) and a Belle & Sebastian -like, twee vocal rip.

Towards the album’s 30-minute close mark, “English Vines” thinks to introduce pedal steel to its already-horizontal atmosphere, and the closer itself, “20K”, starts with a melancholic string solo comparable to the sparse adventures in composition of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis . Finishing as a reed-based lament, Vanderslice steers his project home safely and with skill.

White Wilderness is without doubt a pleasant exercise in accomplishment – one well-aware of its own niche limitations and not at all bothered by them – an ethos by which we could all be well served.

~White Wilderness is released the 31st January 2011 on Dead Oceans .~