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Slice of Life 

For his upcoming release, life and death of an american four tracker 1981-2000, musician/studio-owner John Vanderslice assembles a cast of indie-rock's finest

John Vanderslice's newest release, life and death of an american four tracker 1981-2000, comes out May 7 on Portland, Ore.'s Barsuk Records (Death Cab For Cutie). But you can get a preview when he tours through the Triangle on his way to Austin, Texas--funtown USA--where he'll be playing the South By Southwest (SXSW) international music conference next month. Sadly for those attending said conference, there will be no Barsuk band showcase, but Vanderslice made his way onto the Secretly Canadian Records bill, where he'll fit right in with bands like Songs: Ohia.

Vanderslice's previous album, Time Travel is Lonely, begins, "Oh we kissed only once/in her stripped out apartment/sold your furniture/so we kissed on the carpet." This is an album of isolation that spans the solace found in touring, the death of a spouse, estrangement from a father, seeing a child's life give way as her bicycle is hit by an oncoming car, time travel ... and more in kind. The album's strong point is Vanderslice's novella-narrative take. After having released mainly concept albums, the fact that this latest offering is biographical seems like fell admission on his part.

Left Coaster Vanderslice has studied phrasing with Berkeley poets; he trained for years in vocalization schools where he touted the Elvis Costello style of enunciation and stayed close to him, pleading for mercy as the Mommyheads' Adam Cohen fell from grace on the Left Coast. He's gone from cutting his teeth on San Francisco pop to molding middle eight bridges and minor melodies. After three albums as leader of drama rock quartet MK Ultra, this will be his third release as a solo artist.

While MK Ultra was a powerhouse band (you can see bassist Dan Carr in Preston School of Industry), the solo life has given Vanderslice the freedom to choose from a wide pool of talent: For this latest release, he enlists members of Beulah, Spoon, Death Cab and Mates Of State, along with two lyrical contributions from The Mountaingoats' John Darnielle. For the touring lineup, Kind Of Like Spitting frontman Ben Barnett will guest on guitar and backing vocals.

It was four years ago that Vanderslice, after borrowing $10,000, purchased his first "serious" recording studio equipment and set out to turn his practice space into a place where he and his friends' bands could make affordable recordings. Interest in the space was so great that he was able to pay back the loan within months. The studio, Tiny Telephone, has since grown into a mecca for analog recording. Bob Weston (Rodan, Archers of Loaf, Sebadoh) regularly records there, and John Croslin (Beulah, Spoon, Guided By Voices) was moved enough by the facility to relocate from his longtime Austin, Texas home to become the studio's chief engineer. Tape Op magazine regularly name drops the locale and, in addition, has given Vanderslice space to write articles on the meat and cake of analog versus the jetsons and digits of ProTools. As owner, Vanderslice manages the day-to-day trade of the studio.

On his albums, the tracks are stacked with keyboards, strings, backing vocals, percussion and samples, with artistic vision the constant variable throughout. Live, the arrangements of the songs and the instrumentation of the band give the album cuts a whole new perspective. The songs are rendered true and thick, employing such diverse elements as sampling technology, overdriven fretless bass, pedal steel guitar and a shit-brickhouse drummer, with Vanderslice's vocals carving cello-like through the din like a narcotic.

At his last Kings show (some four months ago), the crowd tried to bring Vanderslice back for encores (the band had played every song in their tour set). Presented with the request to play a few of their songs for a second time, they declined. For pop fanatics and discerning collector types, this is another chance to see Vanderslice in action.

And maybe this time we can persuade them to do an encore. EndBlock

More by Matt Brown

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