By Jeremy Hallock
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Just as Sinatra was synonymous with nightclubs, you imagine John Vanderslice in a wine bar. His music lingers like smoke, its pretty orchestral overtones gently spiraling upward with cinematic grace and understated sophistication.
It's not so much grand as refined. He's careful not to overplay his hand; the music's measured manner suggests the dulcet tones of an NPR host. His voice is an airy tenor doing a choreographed soft-shoe over drifting chamber-pop arrangements with enough guitar and energy to pass for indie pop.
He's a canny if somewhat inscrutable lyricist with a penchant for thematic, or even concept albums. Examples include Time Travel Is Lonely (about someone stuck in Antarctica), The Life and Death of an American Fourtracker (a different kind of isolation) and 2007's terrific, politically inspired Emerald City. Synths and electronic elements are balanced with live instrumentation and organic, analog production offering surprising warmth to his metaphorical tales of emotional distance.
Vanderslice played in the San Francisco band Mk Ultra in the '90s before embarking on a solo career in the wake of their '99 breakup. Since then, he's released eight full-length discs, the latest of which, White Wilderness, features his Tiny Telephone Studio house band the Magik*Magik Orchestra lending a jazzy, string-laden backdrop.