While it's true I did endure a terrible break-up at the beginning of writing this record, this is not a break up record. Dagger Beach is a put-me-the-fuck-back-together record. The break up came in late 2011, after endless months of White Wilderness touring. I returned home to an empty house, and, as that's pretty unbearable when you're not quite right in the head, I decided to set out walking. I hiked the Lost Coast (36 miles of off-the-grid splendor in Southern Humboldt County), I hiked the entire 150-mile trail system of Pt. Reyes, I hiked for days, deep, deep in the woods, usually alone.As I walked and walked, listening to records on repeat, I started obsessing about music again. As the experience changed me, it changed the record. Dagger Beach is looser, weirder, and more free because of it.
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The newest entry into John Vanderslice’s deep and undeniably remarkable catalog is White Wilderness, and it’s a record like no other he’s made before. Here are nine new and wildly impressive JV songs captured live over three days in a unique collaboration with the Magik*Magik Orchestra, a collective of classically trained musicians in the Bay Area led by artistic director Minna Choi. The Magik*Magik Orchestra have a comprehensive mastery of classic performance and repertoire, but also have a full appreciation of the aesthetics of indie and underground music. Choi arranged and conducted White Wilderness with 19 members of the Magik*Magik playing strings and horns, vibraphone, pedal steel and piano, an assortment of reed instruments, and much to JV’s benefit, the voice of Minna Choi singing backup at key moments throughout the album. Recorded in Berkeley, CA White Wilderness was produced by John Congleton, whose resume includes albums by St Vincent, The Walkmen, Explosions in the Sky, Bill Callahan and many more. The results are stunning, and White Wilderness is a breath of fresh air for JV, as well as a great stake in the ground for his career of making stellar records.
“D.I.A.L.O.” is the second 7” single taken from John Vanderslice’s 2009 release, Romanian Names. The song is a highlight from an album with no shortage of highlights, and paired with the exclusive non-album track “Do What You Want” makes for an incredible 1-2 punch. The fried out fuzz-pop of “Do What You Want” plays a perfect foil to the spacey sonics of “D.I.A.L.O.” Containing two instant classics, one per side, this is the way a great 7” single should be.
“Too Much Time” is a perfect pop song and the unquestioned centerpiece of John Vanderslice’s finest record to date, Romanian Names. A true single, “Too Much Time” is now being released as a limited edition 7-inch. It was hailed as NPR’s Song of the Day, whose critics called Romanian Names “his best record yet.” The single features the infectious exclusive b-side “Moon Rocks,” a song that fits neatly alongside the flawless Romanian Names.
The most noteworthy thing about John Vanderslice’s new album is this: Romanian Names is the best record he’s made to date. The 12 songs represent a career-defining moment, a pitch-perfect collection written and recorded with the utmost care and attention. Vanderslice is certainly not the first artist to make such a leap several albums into a career â€“ think Guided by Voices on Bee Thousand, Spoon’s Kill the Moonlight or Of Montreal’s Sunlandic Twins. JV’s newest, his first for Dead Oceans, makes that colossal step and separates itself from an already top-notch body of work. Throughout Romanian Names, JV sings with a newfound, unwavering confidence. He gets right at you with the sing-along choruses and punchy hooks of album opener “Tremble and Tear” and the poppy gem “C&O Canal.” The songs know when to patiently step back with subtle gestures and knock-out atmospherics like those on display in “Forest Knolls” and “Summer Stock," and the album is glued together with the stripped-bare title track “Romanian Names” and the gorgeous Arthur Russell-esque album closer “Hard Times.” Romanian Names is a symphony of sounds both subtle and lush, and as an album it provides the perfect backdrop for JV’s deft and fully-realized songwriting.