Puerto Muerto consists of the husband/wife team of instrumentalist Tim Kelley and vocalist Christa Meyer. Since forming the band, they’ve ventured into styles as diverse as punk, country, folk, electronic experimentation, and even a little cabaret. They’ve also been prolific, with full-lengths and EPs totaling at least half a dozen since 2002. Most of them bear evocative titles like See You in Hell, Children are Fascinated by Fire, and Your Bloated Corpse Has Washed Ashore.
For its part, Heaven & Dirt is subtitled Requiem for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Parts 1& 2), continuing the task of creating an alternate universe soundtrack to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that they started on 2005’s Songs of Muerto County and 2006’s Songs of Muerto County Revisited. At this point, though, that subtitle might be the only real connection the album has to the film. Any references to the film’s characters or events, if they’re here at all, are buried so deep as to be nonexistent. It’s hard to say that there’s any connection via mood, either, as Heaven & Dirt is a graceful, often lilting album. Similarly, the album’s layout—two six-song CDs running 20 minutes each—don’t seem to be separated by any obvious theme despite their titles of “Heaven” and “Dirt”, but instead by style.
Those are not actually quibbles, though, since there’s some interesting music here. Meyer sings with a clear strong voice reminiscent of Over the Rhine’s Karen Bergquist, with just a touch of Siouxie Sioux when she’s really trying to convey the atmospherics. The set starts off strong, with “Up Here Alone” backing Meyer with alternating (and then combined) sections of acoustic guitar and heavy drums. From there, it’s a smooth segue to the electric guitars and Meyer/Kelley harmonies of “Here We Go” and gentle accompaniment of songs like “Simple People”. As expected, the “Heaven” disc feels airy and feather-light, in contrast to the darker moods of the ensuing “Dirt” disc.
“Dirt” announces its intentions immediately, with Meyer adopting a vampish stance and Kelley backing her with stabs of clangy guitar on “Down in the Mud”. “Cold Night” is perfectly named, with Kelley taking lead vocals and making the track sound for all the world like a lost Roger Waters demo circa Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut. By the time “Orange Foundation” comes in with its morbid bounce and Halloween vibe and “Take the Moonlight” kicks in with its mean-spirited and bluesy twang, it feels like Puerto Muerto are taking the listener down concentric circles of moodiness. As its name would indicate, “Dirt” is a decidedly more earthy affair.
So don’t let the subtitle fool you. Heaven & Dirt is hardly an aggressive affront to the senses like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Instead, it’s a patient, slightly lo-fi effort that presents its moments of darkness as shadows, often seen in fleeting glimpses. It’s an intriguing disc, finding inspiration from an unlikely place.