John Vanderslice

Mass Suicide Occult Figurines

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Having caused a minor media sensation when he claimed he was being sued and generally bullied by Microsoft for the track "Bill Gates Must Die," only to later reveal that the whole story was only a prank, John Vanderslice's solo debut is a surprisingly accessible and coherent album. For someone who apparently derives pleasure from pulling Andy Kauffman-esque tricks on the media, he is a dead serious songwriting talent. Coming off a critically acclaimed run with former band mates MK Ultra, he retains some of their more hard-edged rock elements, as on the muscularly dreamy "Speed Lab" and the punchy "And What Did You Do Today." Similarly, the big bruising guitars of "Bill Gates Must Die" drive lyrics that are surprisingly free of attack on the multi-billionaire, instead telling the story of a man whose life is ruined by his obsessive internet use. In the end, however, it's Vanderslice's imaginative melodic sense that makes Mass Suicide Occult Figurines a rare type of album. The gliding atmospherics and beautifully disjointed pop arrangement of "Ambition" balanced with the simple piano and acoustic guitar-based "Josie Anderson" deliver more than a few well-produced and well-textured pop moments, though never becoming overly or awkwardly grandiose. Having once claimed that Brian Wilson sold him a 16-track recorder, Vanderslice masterfully employs multi-layered harmonies and touches of tasteful strings in "Gruesome Details" and "Foothills of My Mind" in ways not dissimilar from that of the troubled pop genius. While his lyricism may be somewhat strange, it certainly isn't indecipherable, just as his pop dynamics are consistently adventurous but never unfocused. While John Vanderslice's shrewd media hoax may be largely responsible for putting him in the news, his rare musical gifts are what will keep him there.

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