Rusty Santos
The Heavens

UUnited Acoustic Recording Company

op Music Archetype #26: The Bedroom Hero. Romantically anti-social figure bred and developed in solitude, enriched by the democratizing revolutions in home recording that enabled notebook scribblers to commit their erratic and fragile hymns to magnetic tape and more recently, hard disk. Best we can hope for: the unbridled loveliness of Beck. Worst we have to fear: some of Lou Barlow's Sentridoh recordings, rusted cans of botulism-ridden nerves.

Still, genre-jockeys, there are choices to make. For The Bedroom Hero, there is a world outside, and the opportunity to document the incommensurable distance between you, in the room, with that acoustic guitar, with your "feelings," and that pale street beyond the window, resulting in The Tender Confessions of a Record Store Clerk Bearing the Bittersweet Load of His/Her Hapless Existence. Or there's the opportunity to chase the faint kites of imagination into uncharted worlds of psychic distortions, to reinvent the world, or, shit, just make a whole new one.

The Heavens is one of those slices of relaxed invention, albeit a little sketchy and uninspired. Still, it retains that enchantingly escapist spirit, as if closing the door to Rusty's room made an Alice-like portal appear right behind that full-length mirror into some dew-speckled quiet. The album is largely populated by prickly and gently psychedelic acoustic pop, some of which suggests the dark, wooden hymns of Animal Collective, but more straightforward, more typically indie-sweet (Dave Portner a.k.a. Avey Tare helped mix this record, and Rusty worked with the duo on the recording of Sung Tongs). When Rusty's looking you in the eye, it can get a little tedious, and some of the songs careen into crass, smiling spirituality fluffed up with harmless universals (i.e. the endearingly clumsy "Careful Aim," on which Rusty makes the high school yearbook-worthy declaration "life is not the same as death, they're not the same, and love is not the same as sex, they're not the same").

Still, it's the loose ends of The Heavens that are fetching, rising into a foggy sky like balloons filled with bong smoke. The discordant, melancholy "This Direction" is a locomotive protest song for the bark-covered set, suggesting at once the serene solemnity of Grandaddy and the ragged exuberance of Syd Barrett. The album's most sprawling, exploratory piece, "It's," is actually quite beautiful; Rusty carries a simple acoustic guitar riff to the point of dissolution, wandering into chopped up words and hushed noise, a lucid midsummer's night dream swathed in the tense uncertainties of homemade whispering winds.

Overall, The Heavens (his third full-length) is a middling one, likely to get subsumed in the waxing popularity of both moss-covered folk /psychedelic baubles and the growing gloss-media kisses blown toward passionate and guitar-slinging youth (as rugged, traumatized indie rock seems to have finally found a market). While The Heavens feels more like a set of demos than a record proper, it's still another pleasant avatar in the ever-evolving history of one of music's most persistent and erratic abstractions, destined to tinker faintly behind the door.

Reviewed by: Mike Powell

Reviewed on: 2005-01-25

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