John Vanderslice

Pixel Revolt

Despite the too-easy contemporary advantages presented by digital sampling and laptops, some musicians still do things the old-fashioned way, with actual analog instruments -- San Francisco's John Vanderslice is one example. Pixel Revoltis a pop-symphonic delight of layered textures, delicate vocal harmonies, poignant piano, dramatic strings, and chiming percussion. While he's clearly learned his lessons from Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Stephin Merritt, and melancholic '60s baroque-rockers Left Banke and Zombies, Vanderslice forgoes any overt homage to his inspirations. In "Plymouth Rock," he frames the high-pitched, plaintive ache in his voice with sparse, harplike acoustic guitar, cyclic rhythms, and eerie bursts of carnival music. The menacing, James Ellroy- styled crime narrative "Continuation" features a loping funk beat, a steely cello, and some Phillip Glass-type minimalist repetition. The lovelorn power-pop ballad "Dear Sarah Shu" comes off like the Bee Gees circa "To Love Somebody" remixed by Tricky. In an era where one can discern what an entire album is going to sound like after listening to a song or two, Pixel Revolt is a bewildering, beautiful surprise.

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