John Vanderslice's 2011 album finds him starting off a new year with engaging focus -- not least because the release is barely over a half an hour long. White Wilderness feels like something from an earlier time not just in brevity, but also thanks to the cover design, the orchestral accompaniment, and more -- it's not that he's become Sinatra, but over the nine songs of the release he brings his ruminative, elegant creative ear to some excellent partners in the Magik Magik Orchestra. The fantastic instrumental break on the opening "Sea Salt," strings and horns swirling to a quick punctuation before the vocals return, makes an immediate mark, with the arrangement on "Overcoat" coming not far behind in terms of enjoyable drama. Vanderslice's soft, sometimes cracking voice remains the understandable focus but in a world of sighing dullards he possesses both the knowledge of how best to use his voice as well as great words to sing. To quote a representative lyric from "Convict Lake": "Small black X on the edge of the camp/I couldn't wait to fall off the map." "After It Ends," consisting only of vocals and acoustic guitar, allows Vanderslice the chance to show his core strengths almost by means of contrast; even if that's seen to be his kind of aesthetic to begin with, it's a stellar example of same, with the sense of hopefulness in the singing working against what is a not as hopeful lyric. The title track, piano, strings, and woodwinds combining to create a fragile feeling that almost couldn't be called anything other than wintry, feels like a lost recording from the late '50s on the one hand (the vibes are a killer touch) while being of its moment on the other, at one point pulling back completely to let Vanderslice's singing step fully forward.