Prodigious singer/songwriter reflects on personal and political turmoil on sixth album in seven years
Inspired by a protracted struggle to get his French girlfriend a visa to join him in the U.S., the sixth full-length release from John Vanderslice is an inherently political yet deeply personal exploration of angst in the age of terrorism. Taking its name from Baghdad’s Green Zone, Emerald City is vividly imagined yet subtle in tone, with conflicted character sketches unfolding around somber synth melodies, creaky electronic effects, and fuzzy acoustic guitar strums. As always, Vanderslice casts a wide net but retains a tight focus, whether animating a hassled 9/11 conspiracy theorist or a struggling frontiersman who has to burn his wagon wheels for warmth. The resulting bitterness and confusion felt by his characters is perfectly reflected in carefully understated balladry and resignedly despairing vocals. But it’s hardly a pop polemic. A master storyteller, Vanderslice prefers to set the scene and walk away from his vignette right before you know exactly what you saw, leaving you only with the sound of desperation and dying machines.