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Exclusive First Listen: John Vanderslice

John Vanderslice has never seemed at a loss for inspiration. The San Francisco-based songwriter has released nearly an album a year since the arrival of his debut, Mass Suicide Occult Figurines, in 2000. Along the way, he's developed a well-earned reputation for writing smart, adventurous, appealing pop music that fiddles with form and structure. Now, nearly a decade into his career, Vanderslice is about to release his best record yet: Romanian Names. Now, you can hear the entire album on NPR Music as part of our Exclusive First Listen series, a week before the album's official release.

Until now, Vanderslice's work has been largely conceptual, with meticulously crafted rhythms and textures accompanying serious themes of world politics, terrorism and war. Romanian Names still offers plenty of catchy hooks and sing-along harmonies, but Vanderslice says he was less concerned with obvious narratives and more concerned with melody and craft. In "D.I.A.L.O.," the album's most infectious track, Vanderslice picked the cryptic acronym just for the way the letters sounded together; otherwise, they mean nothing at all. Ironically, a Google search for "D.I.A.L.O." turns up the Defense Intelligence Agency Liaison Office.

Romanian Names is Vanderslice's first album produced outside of his all-analog Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco. Choosing to get outside his comfort zone, he instead built a small basement studio in his home, where he recorded the songs with basic guitar and piano parts, saving the studio trickery for later. Romanian Names is due out May 19.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Robin Hilton is a producer and co-host of the popular NPR Music show All Songs Considered.