Let's put things in perspective, shall we? Millions of people have soft spots for Thom Yorke. Thousands of people have soft spots for San Franciscan John Vanderslice and I'm one of those. The soft spot, though, shouldn't be taken for automatic clemency for the man. He retains the power to disappoint, should he throw a stinker out there, a pack of songs so ordinary that they register blankly. He gets no leniency just because of that soft spot. JV's latest, Emerald City, doesn't need the soft spot. It does not sully the faith in him. Through some intense scrutiny, this record is another beautiful score in an unblemished career, with each step along the path being a splendid slice of life in the time of - as it has happened through his songwriting career - distress personally and worldly. Emerald City is but nine songs and they aren't brass or boastful, just hand-tossed and loved after. Vanderslice always brings the tender touch, even when his frustrations and disappointments run rampant throughout the lyrical lines. It seems that Vanderslice, the patriot that he is, is struggling to understand the duality of man all over the place on the record. It begins with a look at the big bang, when the dinosaurs and the building blocks for all living organisms sprung from those flashes of light. Life came in such a freakish, miraculous way and he alludes to that throughout, it seems, questioning our handling of it, wondering when it will be appreciated. The white dove of peace is called out with a suggestion that it's distracted or lazy. It can also be read as the need for a peaceful end to whatever's going on isn't absolutely meaningful anymore. He sings, "White dove/What are you thinking of?/Don't come around here no more/It's not about mercy/Not about tears anymore." The tears are dry. No one cares anymore. Vanderslice cares, but he can't do it alone. Emerald City is gorgeous and a sobering snapshot of the state of our numbing.
In his reading, Vanderslice reads from Letters To Wendy's by Joe Wenderoth, a book published in 2000 on Verse Press that talks about sometimes knowing you're going to put a Biggie in you that day and what it is to spend $15 on coffee at a fast food restaurant. You can hear Californian birds outside John's window. - Sean Moeller