Rusty Squeezebox's debut solo album opens with a heavy metal guitar riff, but it couldn't be farther away from the adrenalized arena rock than it is. Or, for that matter, from the volcanic outbursts and reverberating buzz of guitar that dominate the songs of his band Baby Lemonade's recorded output. After the electric riff that starts "Same Old Song," Isotopes shows where its true heart lies, and it is completely mellow and intimate terrain, mood music for the sensitive and spaced-out alike. The album is not a complete departure from and break with Baby Lemonade. "Lights Out" and the spacy "Better World," for instance, could easily find a spot in future band set lists once reworked. But it is certainly a lengthy sidestep that trades in the brashness of full-on electric assault for a phenomenally varied production full of acoustic guitars and beautiful touches of pedal steel, harpsichord, saxophone, and flute, sitar, keyboards, and strings, as well as electronic effects and subtle studio trickery. It is just as epic as Baby Lemonade's previous Exploring Music, but in a dramatically different, almost rococo-delicate way. The music occasionally has the wistful lilt of the High Llamas, as on "Playa de Carmen" and "Little Century." The latter song is so gorgeous that it can only be called Baroque, as can "Settle Down," a huge acoustic strummer that breaks into exceptional Baroque jazz, and the cover of the Buffalo Springfield classic, "Expecting to Fly," shares the same qualities. In many ways, Isotopes is a descendent of the soft side of Neil Young, particularly his Buffalo Springfield work, with its so-hallucinatory-it's-almost-surreal atmosphere and a clouded, ethereal beauty, like the flecks of sunlight that reflect off the rain crystals in fog, diffuse but sparkling. Squeezebox and co-producer Nick Walusko (of fellow Los Angeles band Wondermints) show the full breadth of their vision, and Isotopes is definitely the product of a sophisticated vision. The two utilize the studio as a primary instrument, pasting the music with phasing and deep echo, and giving the album an island-of-its-own sound with odd synthesizer textures and layer upon layer of offbeat instrumental flourishes. The album does not bypass the usual hooks, but it is comprised of far more than hooks. It shows the full scope of an extraordinary songwriter. Isotopes is frequently breathtaking, relentlessly beautiful, and enveloping music that is totally at ease with itself. It resonates loudly by turning the volume down.
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AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart