John Vanderslice is nothing if not consistent. He's never made a bad record, and although his idiosyncratic songwriting and production have only grown more confident and compelling with his last several releases, neither has he made one that is truly, unabashedly great. Romanian Names does little to change any of that, news that should be at once heartening, slightly disappointing, and ultimately entirely unsurprising to his followers. A couple of minor, outward things are different this time around. After six albums on Barsuk, Vanderslice has jumped ship to the increasingly eminent Dead Oceans imprint. He's also decided to shake up his writing process by hammering the songs out in a new basement studio at home before fleshing them out at Tiny Telephone, his usual HQ. Songwise, the results are subtle and few: save perhaps the sprightly, hummable "C&O Canal" and a pair of lovely ballads, "Too Much Time" and "Hard Times," these numbers aren't discernibly more direct or immediate than prior efforts. The album's sound is a typically Vanderslicean mix of inventive chamber orchestration, dappled electronic overtones, and scruffy acoustic indie pop guitars, a step back from the mildly more organic orientation of Emerald City to the variegated textures of Pixel Revolt, though in keeping with both of those albums' gentle, accessible veneer. In terms of the lyrics -- always a crucial factor with Vanderslice -- this may rank as his most oblique work, and not merely because the liners, atypically, lack a lyric sheet (although that could be taken as a clue to his intent). His familiar character-driven approach is largely intact, but the details are sketchier than usual, with few clear narratives emerging despite recurrent references to fraught romantic exploits, loss, violence, memories of summertime, and isolation in wilderness settings. The lack of specificity can be refreshing, with simple chorus phrases and potent, isolated images (notably, of fetal horses galloping in the womb) taking the place of involved story lines. Too often, though, the songs just feel enigmatic and empty. Aside from "Fetal Horses" and the several standouts mentioned earlier, there's strangely little here to hold on to, lyrically or otherwise, makingNames an oddly evasive, impenetrable listen, even if only one song -- the repetitive and slightly grating "D.I.A.L.O." -- comes close to being unpleasant. Not great then, though not bad, Romanian Names holds the unfortunate and surprising distinction of being the very first John Vanderslice album to feel like just another John Vanderslice album.