Review ·

Having placed such emphasis on 9/11, terrorism, and conspiracy theory on his past two albums, San Francisco transplant John Vanderslice has shifted focus for Romanian Names to themes of a more introspective nature. Always the strict advocate of analog, Vanderslice has fine-tuned his production prowess to an art form -- in addition to producing his own works, Vanderslice has contributed production duties to artists such as Spoon and the Mountain Goats. With Romanian Names, Vanderslice has made a beautifully rendered album, if not one that occasionally treads into innocuous terrain.


Vanderslice has always had an exceptional ear for melody. Even in the past, he could sneak in notions as controversial as the World Trade Center attacks being “fake” (Emerald City’s “Tablespoon of Codeine”) while lulling listeners in with hummable refrains and the cottony tranquility of his voice. And from album opener “Tremble and Tear” forward, Romanian Names proves to be one of Vanderslice’s most melodiously rich yet. The aforementioned tracks as well as “Sunken Union Boat” and “Carina Constellation” find Vanderslice flirting in pop territory without forsaking his signature pristine sound. Even on a subtler track like “Too Much Time,” with its prog-synth line sweeping under tenderly delivered lyrics, Vanderslice’s warm incantations never fail to leave a lasting impression.


So what is perhaps troubling about Romanian Names is that some of the songs just aren’t as memorable as others are. “Fetal Horses” starts out fine enough, with shimmering piano cascading over chords that seem to be plucked from REM’s “Man On the Moon,” but the track fades to obscurity before we even arrive at the half-baked chorus. Elsewhere, the false start of barely two-minute “Oblivion” fades out before it ever takes off, a sign that perhaps this should have been relegated to B-side territory.


Even still, the bulk of Romanian Names is classic Vanderslice, brimming with lush arrangements, sharp, introspective lyrics, and ace production that more than lends to the intricacies of each arrangement. And it is, by all accounts, a solid album; it’s just that we have come to expect better from someone with such a flawless back catalog.


  • Tremble And Tear
  • Fetal Horses
  • C&O Canal
  • Too Much Time
  • D.I.A.L.O.
  • Forest Knolls
  • Oblivion
  • Sunken Union Boat
  • Romanian Names
  • Carina Constellation
  • Summer Stock
  • Hard Times

John Vanderslice, San Francisco's Tiny Telephone helmsman, stills reigns supreme as the nicest guy in the indie-rock universe. His jump from his six-album label home at Barsuk to Austin, Texas' Dead Oceans brings his seventh longplayer, Romanian Names. After fretting over the Iraq war and his French girlfriend's passport troubles during 2007's Emerald City, Vanderslice is poised to return to the introspective character studies of albums like Pixel Revolt (2005) and Cellar Door (2004). Romanian Names' pensive title track recounts the tale of a persevering Olympic gymnast, whereas the dreamy survivor's tale "Too Much Time" sees its protagonist staying warm with a eucalyptus fire and pining for his lost love. "Freedom is overrated," indeed.

Vanderslice also told Stereogum that he kept of Montreal, Grandaddy and Beatles albums to listen to between writing sessions. His main goal was to write a "bunch of shorter, faster songs that were all about melody lines." In addition to the usual "Vanderslice sound," Romanian Names features flutes, clarinets, saxophones, marimba, viola, and even the Swedish nyckelharpa. Longtime producer Scott Solter joined in the fray again. Lyrically V-Slice says, "a lot of songs are about the difficulty of being in love. When you're in a very, very close relationship, there's a mirror in front of you all the time. So a lot of the songs, for me, are about that mirrored self and that almost suffocating thing that happens." Though the relationships are bleak on the album, Vanderslice assures that he's happily in love. How frreakin' adorable.

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