David Vandervelde

Shadow Sides

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Starting with 2007's brilliant The Moonstation House Band, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist David Vandervelde began a slow-burning career, offering the world a look at his bounding and hook-heavy music, melodic but swaggering indie rock styled heavily after the thick riffs of T. Rex and the wanton weirdness of Bowie. A follow-up album came the next year but then things got quieter on the Vandervelde front. Over the next six years, multiple moves, the sudden death of long-time friend and collaborator (and former Wilco member) Jay Bennett, and the dissolution of his marriage all kept Vandervelde busy, not to mention sitting in with other acts and doing production work on other artists' recordings. Out of the wake of those six years between new material comes Shadow Sides, a third album that steps toward more refined, gleaming pop sounds. The glam rock reference points of chugging guitars and sleazy Marc Bolan-isms in the vocals are further in the background here, replaced by Beach Boys-esque stacks of vocal harmonies on opening track "Where Are You?," one of a few tunes where Vandervelde slips into breezy, Pacific Ocean tones. "More Than God" also employs this more spiritual take on yacht rock, with soft layers of falsetto harmonies playfully interacting with rubbery basslines and warbling guitar tones. All of Shadow Sides was recorded using the archaic means of a portable cassette four-track, a far cry from the big-budget studios or even lower-cost digital home-recording setups most of Vandervelde's peers make their albums with. The slightly dusty sounds come through in an unexpectedly full spectrum considering the lowbrow recording setup, and the album sounds unique for the production alone. Vandervelde also sounds like he's expanded his scope in the years between albums. His lazy, heavy guitars feel more and more like signature sounds here, but the newfound concentration on layered harmonies, subdued drum machines, and more subtle, sad-hearted songwriting sets the album apart from anything he's done before. "One More Time" stands out especially in all of these ways, with high-pitched harmonies lingering over gentle chord changes and creeping distorted guitar leads rising and falling in the mix. The album is certainly mellower, more thoughtful fare than earlier work, but Vandervelde resists the temptation of making a self-indulgent breakup record. Instead, the ten tunes that make up Shadow Sides sound like an impossibly well-made demo from a band that only exists in strange dreams. It's devotional and brokenhearted without ever losing sight of hope, and manages to have fun even when asking difficult questions or exploring the darker corners of Vandervelde's mind.

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