Emerald City, the latest disc from San Francisco singer-songwriter John Vanderslice, was born from troublesome circumstances, mostly having to do with his French girlfriend being denied a visa. Apparently, Vanderslice's psyche was affected by the legal limbo, as its tumultuous aftermath reverberates in Emerald City's skittish melodies and sense of disconnect.
Given his knack for quirky discourse and obtuse imagery, the guy has never been the most accessible artist, but his lilting tunefulness and self-effacing charm have proved increasingly endearing over the course of half a dozen outings. Emerald City doesn't vary from that earlier template, but its shifting tales, told from troubled perspectives and with omnipresent paranoia, create a haunting residue.
Despite an occasional glimpse of optimism -- specifically, the sense of renewal that accompanies "The Parade" -- a darker demeanor prevails. Sometimes the tone is deliberate: the edgy, agitated "Numbered Lithograph" ("I've never been lonelier," he sings). But mostly it's diffused: the wistful lope of "The Minaret" ("I can see both sides, and it paralyzed me inside").
Ultimately, Vanderslice circles back to confront his calamitous situation head-on, fueling the dogged sway of the final entry, "Central Booking." "The whole mess could sink me again/Held up at Kennedy/Sent back to De Gaulle/Looks like September has won again," he moans, exiting the album as uncertainly as he started.