John Vanderslice

Pixel Revolt

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You know the rap concept albums get -- foot-thick mildewed tomes marked "pretentious" falling from the sky and crushing out your stereo. John Vanderslice's last two albums deftly avoided that stigma, despite the rich conceptual scope of Life and Death of an American Fourtracker and Cellar Door, and 2005's Pixel Revolt is no different. Vanderslice has an incredibly light touch with his characters. His lyrics set the scene, but rarely is anything fully resolved or revealed. So there are keywords and phrases -- "mujahidin barricades," "I know you don't mean that dear," "peer round corners with dental mirrors," "Shawnee brave" -- and suggestions as to what's happening, but Pixel Revolt is always at a four-way stop. It can go anywhere. Musically it incorporates guitars, manipulated tape, timpani, cello, and all manner of keys -- whatever the songs require, and in keeping with Vanderslice's unfailing curiosity as both a producer and sonic technician. (For Revolt he worked again with engineer/multi-instrumentalist Scott Solter, and also collaborated lyrically with John Darnielle.) Erik Friedlander's cello traces the melancholy, recollective quality of "Letter to the East Coast," while the star-obsession meditation "Peacocks in the Video Rain" is more upbeat with its chattering percussion and Baroque pop chorus. "Continuation" has to do with cops and killers and cracking the case; appropriately, it has the feel of a procedural crime drama's urgent and gritty theme song. Law & Order: Tiny Telephone. Other highlights include the gentle piano of "Farewell Transmission," "Exodus Damage," and its cosmic country lilt, and closer "crc7171, Affectionately," which with its B3, hissing loops, and insistent percussion might harbor Pixel Revolt's finest arrangement. It definitely has its most cryptic title.

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