John Vanderslice

"Being Joan Crawford at 21 was easy," sings John Vanderslice on "Letter to the East Coast," one of many tantalizing obscurities collected on his fifth solo CD, Pixel Revolt. Once a member of the experimental pop collective MK Ultra, Vanderslice has been honing his song craft for nearly a decade, mixing obsessive studio technique with literate references and vivid narrative detail.

Assuming a variety of characters, Vanderslice comes across as a post-modern Randy Newman, visiting an Iraqi prostitute in "Trance Manual" and playing the role of a paranoid cop ("Continuation") and stalker ("Peacocks in the Video Rain"). Behind the fiction, Vanderslice produces angular pop similar to The Mountain Goats (whose John Darnielle is credited with editing and expanding the lyrics). Catastrophically pretty, this is music of unrequited yearning; the songs are so delicate that the mere suggestion of error might produce collapse. Floating innuendo and vague memories merge with guitars and string arrangements until each song collects just enough force to disrupt itself.