John Vanderslice

John Vanderslice opened for Burning Airlines here on September 7, 2001, four days before they tied with I Am the World Trade Center for the world's worst band name. Almost six years later, he's one of the few musicians still making real attempts to parse 9/11's emotional aftermath. Emerald City is named for Baghdad's Green Zone, but it isn't explicitly political. Rather, like Burning Airlines frontman/fellow recording auteur J. Robbins, Vanderslice takes an oblique lyrical approach, dropping references into songs that at first glance are concerned with other things. In "The Tower," a man on lakeside holiday finds a tarot card of a "burning tower, hit by lightning, and people are jumping out." These grave yet incidental images pervade Emerald City, but cede the foreground to Vanderslice's songwriting, which marries plaintive, noble hooks with casually inventive production. Nearly all of his deceptively polished songs have a musical twist: In "The Parade," a girl plays hooky, "combing my hair, putting lotion on my skin, waving to friends" while carrying "steel dust in a vial, in my pocket from tower two." Like her day off, pop music can ease the burden of tragedy, like playing hooky from history. But Emerald City spikes such everyday sweetness with bitter remembrances of the world's terrible cruelty.

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Daniel Mee