Wednesday, September 14, 2005

John Vanderslice / Pixel Revolt / Rating 8.3

A store's worth of cool noise makers

Pixel Revolt was given to me almost a month ago and after about 5 listens I had only marked 4 out of the 14 tracks as potential radio friendly numbers which really means these are the only songs that really struck me at all. (“Plymouth Rock”, “New Zealand Pines”(sooo Bjork!), “Radiant With Terror” and Angela”) John’s signature style of Neutral Milk Hotel and the Mountain Goats paying tribute to Dylan in theory should win my heart over but it fails to. It sounds more like I am listening to a compiled audio book rather than a cohesive artist release.

The melodramatic lyrics take on the feeling of a Broadway musical gone solo. The idea is interesting but without the play, the script to connect the dots, each song becomes a disjointed short story. Imagine flipping through a handful of television channels and just as you get wrapped up in one plot, you click over to the next dramatic series. I won’t call this maddening but it borders on annoying.

In my hunt to research for this review I turned to J.V’s website and quickly became totally engrossed by his careful notations in regards to the making of this new record: his analogue tape crisis, The Vako Orchestron, and "Why vacuum tubes sound 'different' than transistors in audio applications?” There are literally hundreds of these factoids to get lost in.

Now I can’t decide which is a more painstakingly precise project, Pixel Revolt the record or the in depth journal detailing the recording of Pixel Revolt on his website. His logical progression in diary form is the complete package I was hoping to hear in his brand new songs.

What can I say; I LOVE John Vanderslice on computer screen but only LIKE him on record.

I am glad the PFM review exclusively tackles the poetic side of J.V's record because beneath Pixel Revolt’s wordy exterior hides a much bigger story. Reading about the making of this record changed how my ears approached the music all together and while I still don’t care for all of the songs musically, I respect and better understand the place they came from.

This has been a first for me; I can’t think of any other artist who has left behind such a detailed blue print of the record they made on line for the world to see. The engineer enthusiast in me loves this but the website’s ode to his studio experiences leaves the themes behind his famed lyrics in the dust. Not completely, but they seem secondary to the recording process itself. The OCD infused tech talk is curious when his following is probably an equal mix of Tape Op subscribers, college lit majors, and plain old fans of the rock.

It’s four hours later and I have just finished reading an article John wrote for Tape Op about Pro Tools from the stance of an analog addict. It was then followed by an interview where John talks about the technique of “hitting tubes so hard” and with a passion so great, some might confuse it as sexually charged. There are endless links to browse and I finally ended on one piece discussing the history of his co-op like recording studio in S.F. called Tiny Telephone.

This is the best infomercial in disguise ever.

All of John Vanderslice’s incredibly detailed recording notes remove the recording smoke and mirrors only to unveil the complex realities behind the making of a cd. The information overload leans toward an unhealthy fixation yet it reflects a man driven by a divine talent to record the old fashioned way. Pixel Revolt is no longer just a new release to me, it is a promotional tool showcasing all of his studio acrobatics.

His website layout is actually a stroke of genius because it highlights Tiny Telephone in a non-traditional commercial form as equally as it reflects his other talents. I may not love this new record or even the one before it but I am totally sold on his analog studio and his undeniable fervor for the act of recording.

Financially speaking I am also willing to bet hiring Vanderslice for a day in his studio will make him more money than a month’s worth of cd sales.

I am stubborn and unwilling to give the music on Pixel Revolt the same PFM rating of an 8.3 but I am willing to give it to his website instead; that shit is amazing.

I am giving this cd a 16 out of 24 possible tracks.