Hey, have you heard the one about the Crushed Stars? It goes a little something like this: a couple of guys walk into a studio, get out a guitar, a bass, a keyboard, etc. and put together an album. They write a bunch of maudlin songs with minimalist titles, put it together with the most barebone of production, slap it in some hip graphic design. The punchline? What they churn out transcends limits and expectations, and becomes something more beautiful, sensual, and meaningful than the sum of its parts.
To get serious, Self Navigation, the band’s debut, is glittery and precious, a 13-song geode whose crystals are etched out of fragility, insecurity, and humanity’s emotional underbelly. It’s a sound and feeling that are absorbed by the entire body, and render a sentiment that cannot be described in a way other than magical. The simple instrumentation plays off Todd Gautreau’s heady and choked-up singing style, which at times sound harmonious together, at times schizophrenic. And lyrically-wise, Self Navigation has the intensity of a diary. Words seemed plucked from that perfect place of passionate immediacy and desperation; songs wear their titles like gloves. Yet, amidst all this complexity, the album comes off smooth, sweet, simple.
This is gorgeously obvious on track four, “Exit Wound”, which juxtaposes the plain, pained lyrics with wrangling, whimsical rhythms and guitars. The first verse is sung low and intently by Gautreau, as the countermelody is pulsing and almost danceable in a free, folksy way. Then, without warning, the meaning of the melody turns on verse two, as though his chest has burst. Singing that was controlled gets higher, more strained, and embarrassingly sentimental—evoking simultaneously the feelings of relief and despair. He sings, “I feel like I’m flying / And you just turn and walk away / There’s no use in trying / I know exactly what you’d say” as, otherwise, the song keeps its course. It’s the kind of song that’s significant on myriad levels, depending on how much hearing you want to do.
Indeed, allowing yourself to dig deep and find more is the ultimate joy of Self Navigation. At first, it harkens innocent, straightforward, indie pop—especially given the clumsy ways of the opening (and probably weakest) track, “Liza in Silver”. But beyond that initial listenings and fledgling-like beginnings is an animal that will earn its feathers, spread its wings, and fly. From meandering hymns like “Presently Scattered” and “Tow Truck” to instrumentals like “Ever Since Autumn” that sound like tears falling, this is an album ripe with tender beauty, facile mysticism, envy and wonder. This album isn’t about getting the joke. It’s about arriving at a place so real—so raw—that you couldn’t laugh if you tried.