Release Date: Jun 11, 2013
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Chamber Pop
California popsmith John Vanderslice built his name on his ever-curious songwriting and shape-shifting production with colorful and catchy solo albums like Life and Death of an American Fourtracker and Cellar Door. Dagger Beach follows Vanderslice's seemingly endless line of creative output, presenting itself as an album inspired by the events following a breakup, but not a "breakup album" per se. It's true that the themes here don't linger on heartbreak or agony, but there's a certain still patience to the album that comes from the somber reflection of an ending love.
John Vanderslice's finest work incorporates his subversive narrative voice into progressive, meticulous musical arrangements, but his most recent albums, Romanian Names and White Wilderness, emphasized only the latter of those two qualities. Dagger Beach is a substantial rebound for Vanderslice, then, because the thematic focus on finding one's footing after a breakup makes it one of his most accessible efforts. While his songwriting remains dense and heady, Vanderslice has once again struck a balance between his knack for high-minded compositions and his compelling, deeply personal songwriting.
Dagger Beach can, at times, feel a little out there—even for John Vanderslice. Written on the heels of a break-up and funded through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, Dagger Beach is both familiar and distant. As Vanderslice puts it, ”…this is not a break up record. Dagger Beach is a put-me-the-fuck-back-together record.” JV has always had a knack for writing songs about working at a methamphetamine lab (“Speed Lab”), shooting birds from his window (“Up Above The Sea”), or time spent with an Iraqi prostitute (“Trance Manual”), but after Dagger Beach, his ninth studio album, we may have to wonder what those songs were really about.
When Amanda Palmer raised a million dollars on Kickstarter in 2012, it made musical crowd sourced fundraising the Next Big Thing. In some respects, that moniker has held up. From the first half of 2013 alone, Kickstarter’s logo could be in the credits of albums by Murder by Death, Kevin Devine, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Jo Dee Messina, Cannibal Ox, Brand New, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Polyphonic Spree, just to name a few.
As the story goes, John Vanderslice returned home to San Francisco after a lengthy tour supporting 2011’s White Wilderness only for his wife of six years to swiftly announce that she’d be leaving him. He went out into the woods of Northern California and hiked around by himself, all the while pretty much losing his mind. He decided he needed to Do Weird Stuff again musically, which-- with all due respect to his last few albums-- involved getting back to what made him great in the first place, besides the enduring, secretly genius storyteller thing.
A confession: reviewing Dagger Beach almost feels like a conflict of interest. Not that I’m friends with John Vanderslice beyond the Facebook realm — we’ve spoken only once, a phone interview that carried on well over an hour as the songwriter drove from San Francisco to L.A. in an afternoon. But having followed his output closely since 2004’s masterful Cellar Door and the following year’s politically-charged Pixel Revolt, it’s hard not to feel like I know the guy more intimately than many of my actual friends.
John Vanderslice has never bowed to the ordinary or expected. Whether perpetrating a complex copyright hoax to promote his early single “Bill Gates Must Die,” opting for political pontification so as to excise his demons on 2005’s Pixel Revolt, or ruminating on America’s overseas follies via Emerald City two years later, he’s found inspiration in even the most unlikely of circumstance. It would be easy, then, for Vanderslice to rely only on his storytelling and letting his lyrics speak for themselves.