John Vanderslice’s 2007 album, Emerald City, was one of the best of his career. Would it be wrong to expect more of the same two years later? Apparently so. Though Vanderslice uses much of the same structures and styles in Romanian Names as he has in the past, something gets lost in the wash.
“Tremble and Tear,” would be a great opener for another album, vocally and compositionally speaking. The lyrics for this and the following songs follow the same sort of organization as the past. Consistency has never truly killed a band or a musician. People generally continue to like what they’ve liked in the past. Vanderslice’s fans are no exception; they possible create the modern rule.
Ignoring “Fetal Horses,” as it is so easy to do and only saved by its lyrics, “C & O Canal” uses similar “horse trotting tones as in Psapp’s “Tricycle.” This adds to the satisfaction gained from the song. “Too Much Time” holds back from the more upbeat, songs of the album. That is when there are upbeat songs. It is arguably one of the best on the album, though you could make the argument that the chorus should have been reworked. “D.I.A.L.O,” is used, more than likely, as an acronym for the Defense Intelligence Agency Liaison Office. While some believe Vanderslice has moved away from being consumed with thoughts of terrorism, it’s still definitely in the back of his head. The layperson considers few things when the Roman Empire is brought up in conversation. Without applying the acronym, the song doesn’t really satisfy the listener, forcing those who know little about the DIALO to search Google or public records.
Following “D.I.A.L.O” is another seemingly ignorable track, “Forest Knolls.” After nearly four minutes of indulging Vanderslice’s egotism the listener is rewarded with just over two minutes of “Oblivion.” This track may have also been suitable for Matt Costa’s 2006 Brushfire release, Songs We Sing.
Starting with “Sunken Union Boat,” Vanderslice listeners obtain compensation for paying attention to the first half of the album. The songs following “Sunken Union Boat” are all impressive.
The album closes with “Hard Times;” a sincere and cordial goodbye. Until his next release, that is.
Artist: John Vanderslice
Album: Romanian Names
Release Date: May 19, 2009
Label: Dead Oceans
Rating: 6.8 / 10