Review: John Vanderslice – Green Grow The Rushes (2010)

It’ll come to the shock and dismay of a number of my peers that I’d never listened to John Vanderslice before today. I knew who he was, of course. I mean, who doesn’t? I’d just never listened to him. I know at least one friend who is probably going to go slack jawed when they read that statement and for my sins, I would like to repent. In fact, I’ve been repenting for a little while now and I think it’s going well. You see, I started my repenting process today, by cozying up to Vanderslice’s newest release, Green Grow The Rushes, a six song EP that is available for free on his website. I mean, if a free EP is dropped into your lap, who are you to say no? It seemed as if fate itself was trying to tell me something. And that something was “Familiarize yourself with Vanderslice, you slouch!”

Much like most people I’ve heard of but not actually heard, I had my preconceived notions when it came to Vanderslice. To be honest, I think my brain was meshing like-named musicians Vandaveer and David Vanderveldetogether to make some sort of Frankenstein’s monster of indie rock. Vanderslice? He’s not exactly what I’d envisioned. And I mean that in the best way possible.

Unfortunately, as I’m not familiar with his back catalog, I can’t say whether or not the songs on Green Grow The Rushes are typical of Vanderslice or not but not halfway through the first track, “Thule Fog”, I found myself hoping they were perfectly in step with the rest of his career because if that’s the case, Vanderslice will have a mega-fan on his hands so far as I’m concerned.

From the opening moments of Grow Green The Rushes, it didn’t take me long at all to realize that my misconceptions about Vanderslice were many. Where I had envisioned another sad folk musician, Vanderslice, in actuality, is a complex pop maven, composing songs in the vein of Sufjan Stevens and Jon Brion with so much agility that it’s a wonder why Vanderslice doesn’t have a more fervent fan base of devoted listeners on his hands.

Vanderslice is innovative with his sound, using a number of instruments that my ear can’t place, even after repeated listens and attempts to dissect each track’s properties. (Clarinet?! Flueglhorn?! I know the first assumption is true. The second one I think I made up.)

Green Grow The Rushes starts out strong with “Thule Fog” but it’s second track”I’ll Never Live Up To You” that’s the point in the EP where, as the kids’ say, “shit gets real”. “I’ll Never Live Up To You” juxtaposes it’s fast paced digital backbone with emotionally fraught lyrics about death. As the song unfurls, the lyrics get more confessional and personal, documenting loss in a very real way that will hit home for anyone who’s ever gone through the horrific emotional upheaval of losing someone close to them.

Elsewhere, Vanderslice jangles his way through the lush, accessible “Pony Express” and goes for grandeur with the loveliest of results with “Lay Down”. It’s only six songs total but Green Grow The Rushes is enough to make me anxious to delve into Vanderslice’s lengthy career and hurriedly digest everything he has to offer.

Rating: 8.1/10

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