John Vanderslice
w/ Portastatic
Wed. Oct. 19
9 p.m.
$10, $8 (adv.)
Village Tavern
1055 Johnnie Dodds Blvd.

“In the beginning, I really wanted to write an entire record about Iraq,” says California-based singer-guitarist John Vanderslice, 38, of his latest semi-conceptual collection, Pixel Revolt. Speaking on the phone in the van en route from Denver to Omaha, the songwriter starts rolling on an elegant diatribe against the Bush administration and their actions at home and abroad.

“The apparatus and the power it has is so complete and overwhelming, it seemed impossible to ignore it,” he asserts.

Vanderslice’s carefully orchestrated, melancholic tunes make for a kinder, gentler protest. It’s almost funny hearing such vitriol from such a kindly-sounding songwriter.

“I’m all for being a protest singer, but it’s just really difficult, whether it’s laced with sarcasm or absolutely militant,” he says. “For me, I had to write about the war and 9/11, but I had to do it at an angle and in a way that was clever.”

Released earlier this year on Barsuk Records, Pixel Revolt represents a more ambitious approach to arranging songs and sounds. There’s an impressive amount of oddball keyboard sounds and unusual orchestration going on underneath Vanderslice’s breathy, kid-baritone vocal work (think Daniel Johnston-meets-Peter Murphy at a Dylan tribute show). It all makes for a more personalized effect.

Through the late-’90s, Vanderslice stood as frontman for the critically-acclaimed indie band MK Ultra. After the band’s sudden break-up in 2000, Vanderslice shifted gears and delivered his conceptual solo debut, titled Mass Suicide Occult Figurines (Barsuk). Critics hailed the release as a quiet but forceful collection of drama and melody with sweeping orchestral movement. He released three more solo albums leading up to Pixel Revolt — each featuring his distinctive low, nasal voice and a fabric of guitars, piano, harpsichord, and strings.

“We were smart enough to hire a few people who really imprinted this new record,” says Vanderslice, who worked intensely alongside engineers Scott Solter and John Darnielle (of the Mountain Goats) in the Tiny Telephone studios in San Francisco.

“I think I figured out how to sing better and be little more patient now,” he adds. “I figured out how to be a little more withdrawn from the microphone … not as aggressive and shouty.”

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