New love, lost love, the complicated in-betweens: these are moments that warrant and receive soundtracks. We all have break-up songs that come to mind, songs about confusion, songs about the surges of the heart — but just as complex as the feelings about others is the feeling of taking a leap towards finding yourself. Taking it all on, Heather Gruber uses her move from Tennessee to Los Angeles as a through-line on her debut, Dance Into the Desert.
The record tells a story, starting bright and optimistic with the pop tune “Beauty Outside the Lines”, which if placed elsewhere on the album might risk saccharine, but because of the journey the album moves through, feels like a first chapter. The pins are set up to fall, and fall they do. “Running on Empty” details the feeling of exhaustion while trying to hide exhaustion after a transition and fills out with strings. True to the “ups and downs” description, “Perfect Day” finds beauty in the little things while “Letting Go” discusses building up again from the bottom. Even at their heaviest, Gruber’s songs are a call of understanding to those listening. Her optimism is infectious, her struggles warrant community.
Through the autobiographical journey, Gruber keeps the album strong with her crystal vocals and ukulele strumming. When necessary, she will build and drop levels of instrumentation, as on “Lost My Halo”’s melancholic movement from piano and voice to include strings, or the jazzy piano conclusion of “Lost in Space”.
Dance Into the Desert moves between optimism and hardship, but finds its footing in mantra-like repetitions of finding yourself when you feel lost, taking leaps of faith, and enjoying the love that comes your way: even if you weren’t expecting it.