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John Vanderslice 

Pixel Revolt (Barsuk)

John Vanderslice has always brought a cinematic flair to the staid storytelling techniques employed by so many indie singer-songwriters. His best songs double as short films, with enough of a storyline to get you hooked and enough mystery to keep you guessing. Pixel Revolt's strongest tracks use these juxtapositions to great effect. "Exodus Damage" segues from reports of the 9/11 attacks to a chorus that references video-game craze Dance Dance Revolution, mixing political worries and pop-culture detritus into the album's strongest song. But Revolt is hardly the digital explosion that its title suggests. Whereas last year's Cellar Door trafficked in splintering distortion and serpentine drum programming, JV's latest tells its story in an unadorned style, with simple piano and reverberating vibraphones adding to the spacious sound. While this is certainly a down-tempo record, the allegiance to melody and classic pop choruses is in full view toward the end of the album. Only Vanderslice can turn something clinical into a full-hearted love song: "CRC 7173, Affectionately" sounds like a mash note to -- or from -- a graphing calculator.

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September 30, 2020

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