The Dead Tongues: Dust★★★★ | Psychic Hotline; Apr. 1

For over a decade, Ryan Gustafson has been crafting affectionate roots rock, sharing deeply personal lyrics with a mystical folk hue. Gustafson’s work with The Dead Tongues has become a reliable source of entrancing tunes, and while sometimes formulaic, it’s a formula that works: Gustafson digs deep into his heart and churns out timeless tracks like clockwork.

With The Dead Tongues’ latest album, Dust, Gustafson found himself struggling to push forward as a musician. Like for many of us, the pandemic made Gustafson reevaluate his identity. Instead of tossing out his old notebooks, he used them as inspiration for this stellar fifth record.

While many familiar tropes are explored on Dust, we also find Gustafson at his most adventurous. The record opens with “Pawnshop Dollar Bills” a hypnotic track that nods to classic American jam bands, chooglin’ on with eight minutes of dynamic rustic ruckus. “Pawnshop …” is downtempo but packed full of intricacies, a pervasive theme in this record. While it’s easy to tune out to Dust, an album full of sparse and subdued songs, you’ll find that it’s packed full of brilliant musical moments if you give it your full attention.

“Through the Glass” is an upbeat jaunt with mandolin flourishes from Andrew Marlin (Watchhouse) and harmonies from Alexandra Sauser-Monnig (Mountain Man). It’s a track that follows the fleeting nature of life and the joy found in its minutiae, a theme found frequently throughout the album. The titular track stands out with Gustafson’s harmonica hanging over the mix, lurking like a specter of his pining and desperation. “Little Lies” brings bright pedal steel and upbeat percussion to contemplative lyricism.

Dust is a record that feels like a natural progression for Gustafson. There’s a fine balance between rich production and humble arrangements, all anchored with lyrics that traverse a universal struggle to belong—and to find the balance between the person you were and the person you’ve become.

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