Hotel hell

It rings out like a warning shot across the Tweetosphere: "I'm like the guy in Memento, self-tattooing the phrase "DO NOT EVER STAY IN THE CORALVILLE, IA COMFORT INN" on my arm in my busted hotel room," writes musician John Vanderslice, who had the misfortune of booking a room at the hotel for a recent performance.

"I want to bomb this place," says Vanderslice as he leaves that very hotel. "They gave me so much grief when I tried to switch my room. I just Priceline the hell out of hotels and really break their spirits, but this hotel is life-negating. I just want to run over children in the street and do Oxycontin. It makes me very sour. This hotel sucks so bad."

Well, then. Vanderslice has been trying to shed the "nicest guy in indie rock" label for years, and that's one way of doing it. Such is the transformative villainy of not only a Coralville, Iowa, hotel but the stress of a year spent releasing records and touring nonstop as a solo acoustic co-headliner alongside the Mountain Goats. Now, with full band backing, he's supporting his seventh studio LP (and his first for the Dead Oceans label), Romanian Names.

His previous two records, Pixel Revolt and Emerald City, surveyed the frightening complexity of post-9/11 society in America and the Middle East, but Vanderslice has gotten past his lyrical preoccupations of the last four years. He says he was in a more positive place writing Names, a sprightly affair boasting lush Brian Wilson harmonies atop twee keyboards ("C&O Canal"), ambient textures ("Hard Times"), baritone synthesizers ("D.I.A.L.O."), Spartan acoustic strumming ("Romanian Names") and metronomic drum thumps ("Forest Knolls") in an immaculately produced pop mosaic.

Still, while the characters in his encyclopedic narratives aren't faced with threats of terrorism, war and torture any longer, they're still plagued with loneliness, a state of mind connecting all of Vanderslice's work.

"I've always been an isolated person," he said. "I'm disconnected from a lot of normal activities. That will always be in the music, but it's not an overwhelming kind of grief and frustration `with Names`. It's a manageable loneliness."

This sense of isolation also permeated Vanderslice's other 2009 release, Moon Colony Bloodbath, a conceptual split EP with the Mountain Goats about the melancholy life of seasonal organ harvesters on the moon. (The limited edition, vinyl-only EP is already hitting absurd prices on eBay.)

"It was totally John's `Darnielle, of the Mountain Goats'` concept, about the organ harvesting," he said, "Ironically, I think I kind of adhered to the story more than he did. He quickly forgot about it."

With the lights of the dreaded Coralville Comfort Inn shrinking in the distance, Vanderslice settles onto a note more befitting that "nice guy" albatross.

"I love being downtown `in Orlando`," he said. "I feel very comfortable there. There's something about the air, the cypress trees, the proximity to the Suwannee River. It's wonderful."

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