John Vanderslice, White Wilderness

Ian Cohen

By Ian Cohen

on 01.24.11 in Reviews

His career began with both disjointed pop and minor controversy via shrewd media hoaxes ("Bill Gates Must Die"), but in the decade-plus since Mass Suicide Occult Figurines, John Vanderslice has sidled alongside like-minded, if not sonically similar songwriters like Andrew Bird and Sondre Lerche. Each of them are wry, cerebral and consistent, almost to a fault. If indie rock had a health food section, they'd be in stock.

A brief detour for a restless, creative mind

White Wilderness is the Vanderslice album that goes the furthest out of its way to be good for you: It was recorded with 19 members of the Magik Magik Orchestra, yet put to tape in merely three days, suggesting a tension between the chin-stroking appeal of its studied instrumentation and the relatively improvisatory writing process. And yet, both play off each other in a way that makes the record feel disjointed: While the occasional piquant lyric or cyclical melody can distinguish a highlight like "Convict Lake," the literal bells and whistles can make Wilderness a bit dry and fussy. Nonetheless, its snack-sized portion — nine songs, 31 minutes — suggest it's a brief detour for a restless, creative mind.