Essential New Music: Dick Stusso’s “In Heaven”

For the past few years, Oakland’s Dick Stusso has been writing dark, apprehensive quasi-country scenarios, dwelling on the less savory aspects of life on earth. He delivers his messages with a lo-fi, homemade approach that makes them sound like notes from a soul finely balanced on the edge of despair. Despite the implied salvation in the title, In Heaven continues to address the numbing overstimulation of present-day existence with a tone somewhere between a grimace and a smirk.

The plodding tempos, muffled background vocals and Stusso’s rumbling baritone give laments like “Terror Management,” “Bullshit Century, Part 1” and “Phasing Out” a bleak, hopeless authenticity. The slow lumbering beat of “Modern Music” actually harks back to the sound of an early R&B hit, with shrieks of spaghetti-Western guitar and primal bluesy piano supporting a morose lyric that declaims, “Modern life is a palace built on endless suffering.”

—j. poet