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Former MK Now Solo

John Vanderslice
Mass Suicide Occult Figurines
(Barsuk Records)

For those sad about the departure of San Francisco indie-rock faves MK Ultra, fear not. Lead singer of the group John Vanderslice has pretty much up and continued where that group left off with The Dream Is Over with Mass Suicide Occult Figurines. Some of the songs on this release were actually written for his former group to perform, but when they called it quits last year it just gave him sort of a boost on his own solo release.

Sometimes known for his media pranks (like claiming he had purchased a 16 track recorder directly from Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys or that he was being sued by Microsoft Incorporated for trademark infringement for the song "Bill Gates Must Die") just as much as his music, Vanderslice is an eclectic indie pop singer/songwriter who pens tracks about everything from ever-encroaching technology on our everyday lives to a rockin' track about a meth lab (wha?).

Yep, you heard me right. Not only does Vanderslice play with traditional arrangements and instruments, but he also encases many of his song with either a biting wit or engaging semi-seriousness. Then again, if you've heard MK Ultra, you already know that. Anyway, the aforementioned track "Speed Lab" would have probably been a decent sized hit if it weren't written about the number one drug that the D.E.A. is trying to crack down on right now. One of the things that Vanderslice is so good at is blurring that fiction/non-fiction line and he does just that in the song, singing almost wistfully about the days of drug-induced haze and crashing in a flop-house. While the track "Bill Gates Must Die" is one that probably got the most amount of press, it's actually one of the songs that's least-inventive in the release, rolicking along with a fairly standard rock lick and catchy chorus (that's not such much about the Microsoft head as it is about pervading technology).

It's actually some of the more sparse songs (probably written without the band in mind) that work the best. The short, pretty "Josie Anderson" is sort of an ode that you might have heard sea-bound sailors sing if they'd been into experimental indie rock. The same goes with the short, piano-driven "Gruesome Details," that has lyrics that sound like something you've heard in about 10 other songs, yet still manage to sound fresh. The disc closes out with a pretty string arrangement on the album-titled track, and that's it. The whole thing clocks in at under 35 minutes. For a pop album, it never has time to wear out its welcome, yet it doesn't feel insignificant. Vanderslice obviously has a load of talent, and I'm sure that we're be hearing more from him in the future. I'm sure he has a few more stunts up his sleeve as well.

Rating: 7