John Vanderslice – Dagger Beach
In 2007 John Vanderslice released Emerald City, undoubtedly the best set of songs about 9/11 and its aftermath. Fully six years after the events of that day, it was no mature reflection. These were totally immediate, eye-witness accounts. Full of bewilderment and shock, they were strong, powerful, memorable tracks with great melodies. It must have been utterly cathartic, because since then things have become much quieter. The follow-up, Romanian Horses, was a restrained affair. The next outing, White Wilderness, was played with an orchestra. His latest release, Dagger Beach, is more experimental. He’s called it an “abstract” and “weirder” record. He’s right, but it’s still recognisable as a John Vanderslice album. The songs are filled with short bursts of sounds that complement the melodies. Twinkling keyboards, electronic burbles, brief guitar licks. Like his previous outings, this is an album with lots of notes. The difference is that there are none of the great sing-along tunes from previous albums, such as ‘Exodus Damage’, or ‘Pale Horse’. Sure, there are songs that in a different mood could have been supreme slices of Vander. ‘Damage Control’ with its plaintive “oh let me go” refrain has hints of ‘They Won’t Let Me Run’ from Cellar Door. ‘How The West Was Won’ with its fuzz guitar and belting percussion starts off as if it’s going to reprise ‘Numbered Lithograph’ from Emerald City. Neither song, though, fully gets going. Instead, Dagger Beach is a thoughtful record. At times perhaps it’s a little over thoughtful. ‘Harlequin Press’ sets up a classic Vanderslice melody, only for it to be taken away by a woodwind interlude. ‘Song For David Berman’ has similar stop-starts, but perhaps comes closest to a fully realised gem. John Vanderslice is the undisputed ‘nicest guy in indie rock’. He has a wonderful ethos. He’s made great albums. He’s almost beyond criticism. This isn’t his most memorable outing. But as ‘abstract’ and ‘weird’ records go, this one is still very listenable.