With his second remarkable album of post-Sept. 11 studies, Emerald City, Vanderslice will hopefully earn the notoriety that has eluded him. Following 2005's Pixel Revolt, Vanderslice again broaches a nearly untouchable subject with humility, ingenuity and a quirky type of reverence. The results are often beautiful, like the hazy majesty of "The Parade," or haunting, like the reverb-acoustic fizzles of opener "Kookaburra," or both, like the ragged sweetness of "White Dove."
The range of emotions Vanderslice evokes on Emerald City are never simplistic, but provide the ideal levity for an album that, by definition, is overwhelmed by topicality. Take, for example, "The Tower," a chilling, fuzzy tune that manages to elicit moments of unfettered splendor despite its inherent gravitas.
It may be hard to call Vanderslice's latest a masterpiece--or even a personal best--but its imagery of shattered lands and dreams glossed with redemptive moments of tenderness make it worth continuous spins. Good art can challenge, but great art never gives easy answers.