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.