For his thirteenth record, John Vanderslice has renamed himself orangepurplebeach. This renaming is a metaphor for a concrete step away from a defining feature of his two-decade long catalogue – analog recording.
John founded Tiny Telephone in 1997 – a recording studio in the Mission District of San Francisco that grew into a sanctuary for hi-fi analog recording. Artists like the Mountain Goats, Death Cab For Cutie, and Spoon came to Tiny Telephone for John’s craftsman-like approach to music making. Digital recording was antithetical to everything John and his studio stood for.
Changes to John’s approach to music were largely inevitable – d E A T h~b U g is the first full length album recorded since John’s move to Los Angeles and the closing of Tiny Telephone San Francisco. Many of the tracks were recorded in the back studio of his Historic Filipino Town home. As his multiple “Rap I listen to” playlists on Spotify can verify, John has developed a taste for glitchy, staticky sounds – textures that can only be achieved through digital synth recording. On d E A T h~b U g, John hopes to incorporate at least 1% of what he connects to in rap music – deceptive simplicity, repetitive loops, and a sloppy, trance sensibility.
Only four of the twelve songs on d E A T h~b U g are strictly concerned with narrative. On the other nine tracks, John’s vocals are devalued to the place of an instrument. Sometimes we want a song about mom and dad, but sometimes we want a song about a synthesizer or sonic sequence. Admin Reveal encapsulates this duality as an anchor of the record. Flashes of confessional connection get subsumed again and again by surreal, comical, complex sounds. Right when you’ve got it – it disappears. And then the next song arrives, and you’re back in an MDMA fuelled loop.
Like all albums recorded in 2020, d E A T h~b U g was born out of unforeseen circumstances. While John was completely transforming his method of recording music, he was also adjusting to an entirely new way of connecting with his audience. As soon as lockdown hit, John began biweekly Instagram shows, where he would perform an hour of music twice a week. He also ramped up his Patreon, where he released monthly, fully scored Podcast episodes and committed to writing a song for anyone that pledged over $50/month. This relentless attempt at digital connection provided John with an unprecedented amount of raw content.
The raw content to d E A T h~b U g transformation came about with collaborators Rob Shelton and Jamie Riotto. John worked with Rob and Jamie before on The Cedars – the first album John released after declaring retirement five years earlier. Rob and Jamie’s touch makes dEATh bUg a more clarified vision than the intimate, experimental quarantine EPs that have preceded this release.
Although d E A T h~b U g is a departure, long standing listeners of John Vanderslice will recognize undeniable throughlines to the rest of his work. There’s a signature concern with anything political, odes to the beauty of the natural world, and a lyrical fascination with the destructive impulse of humanity. Of course, the legacy of John’s many musical roles – producer, collaborator, cowriter, audio technician, band-mate – continue to exert themselves in his own solo work.
John has been very public about his battles with severe depression over the past year, and there’s no question that this struggle informed d E A T h~b U g. Loops, repetitions, and rhythms belong to the world of mental health as well as electronic music. John takes full advantage of this parallel. Lush soundscapes help his listener digest psychically poignant lyrics. His immersive beats mirror the essential routines and repetitions necessary for continued survival. When John is singing on the record, the tone is invariably melancholy. But before the sadness can build up, you’re swept away by an inevitable euphoria of clear, thoughtful sound.