Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription.This podcast features album tracks, exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and other recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Today’s featured song is “Convict Lake” by John Vanderslice from his brand new album, White Wilderness, out now on Dead Oceans.
Over the past decade and more of his career, John Vanderslice has been a consistent force in independent music. While none of his frequent releases seems too similar, his fans can always expect from him the same things: solid songwriting, lyrics full of imaginative storytelling and sharp political critique, a defiantly DIY spirit, a warm analog aesthetic, and technical wizardry concocted in his own San Francisco studio, Tiny Telephone. On his eighth full-length, though, JV throws listeners a symphonic curveball. More than a solo album, White Wilderness is a collaboration with the Magik*Magik Orchestra, a collective of classically trained musicians in the Bay Area led by artistic director Minna Choi. With MMO, the “house band” of Tiny Telephone, Vanderslice takes for the first time in his career a live approach, recording the nine compositions, arranged by Choi, in just three days!
Perhaps inspired by the entirely organic sounds of the 19-piece orchestra consisting, as you would expect, of strings, horns, woodwinds, piano, and various percussion, most of the songs on the album feature vivid images pulled from nature. Today’s featured song, “Convict Lake,” is no exception, though it is perhaps the most whimsical of them all. The Beatles-esque romp finds the narrator literally hallucinating in the wilderness while camping at said lake, only to find himself later strapped to a gurney after taking one “tab” too many. It might be tragic if it weren’t so comical or if the Magik*Magik Orchestra weren’t so magically airy.
JV just finished playing a few acoustic shows in California, but so far there are no future shows listed on his website. No doubt, the tireless performer will be back around soon enough. Look for him eventually on KEXP, as he’s always a welcome guest on our airwaves. Here’s a video from one of his more recent visits to the station: