John Vanderslice, who's appeared in this space before, is a singer-songwriter from Gainesville, Florida with a quavering tenor voice and a regard for audio gear that borders on the fetishistic. At Vanderslice's Web site, you can read an exhaustive account of how he put together his 2002 album Life and Death of an American Fourtracker. (Sample passage: "The blown out drum sound was created by sending a very hot signal off the board into the mic input of an Ibanez AD202 delay and tweaking the regeneration knob until pure chaos is reached.")
There's no equivalent concordance for Pixel Revolt, an excellent 2005 album that finds Vanderslice looking askance at war, medication, and celebrity worship. Still, you can hear the attention to detail on songs like "Trance Manual," where synth lines drift like aurora borealis over a mild-mannered ride-cymbal-and-rim-shot beat. This song is echt Vanderslice in at least one sense: it uses a lot of machines to create something improbably warm.
Vanderslice gets a lot of attention as a composer and a gearhead, but it's worth noting that he also seems to put as much care into his lyrics as anyone in the pop world. Here's an incomplete list of words and phrases that occur in "Trance Manual" and in no other song I've ever heard: "mujahidin," "sandbags," "sleepy 47s," "aqua mirabilis." From this collection of unlikely vocabulary, Vanderslice--along with his co-writer, John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats--assembles a tender portrait of a journalist meeting with a prostitute somewhere in the Middle East. Vast political forces brought them to this place, but the moment is made up of tiny details: "cheap lipstick, bleached hair." "Dressed like that, you are the flag of a dangerous nation," Vanderslice sings. "Dressed just like that, you are some kind of declaration."
On iTunes: John Vanderslice / "Trance Manual"
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.