These days, it seems a lot like musicians who include a political message in their music are deemed to be either out of bounds or posturing, and not taken very seriously. It’s too bad, especially given the state of affairs of the planet these days. Pixel Revolt, the latest album from John Vanderslice, is not drenched in message after message, but does carry with it some seriousness. The great thing is, when he does want to say something, it’s not covered in syrup.
Take “Exodus Damage”, part of which talks about 9/11: “So the second plane hit at 9:02/I saw it live on a hotel TV, talking on my cell with you/you said this would happen, and just like that it did”, and then wonders, “An hour went by without a fighter in the sky/You said there’s a reason why/So tell me now, I must confess/I’m not sick enough to guess”. There are other commentaries throughout the album: regarding the Iraq war in “Plymouth Rock”, or trying to understand the resentment of American occupation through the story of a journalist in “Trance Manual”.
It’s not all about America at war, though. There is other subject matter, as with “Angela”, about a lost rabbit, or “Continuation”, in which the detectives who study a case of serial killing become the suspects. What really holds the record together, however, are the gorgeous melodies and arrangements therein. John Vanderslice is a true craftsman, evoking moods and feelings in the songs naturally and effortlessly. It sounds like any more added to the songs would be superfluous, but that any less would make them seem empty. An sublime balance is reached in the songs on Pixel Revolt, making it a nice surprise, and one of the better albums I’ve heard this year.