Todd Gautreau, the mastermind behind the indie outfit Crushed Stars, has a tremendous talent for creating lush, intricate, and sonically fascinating instrumental accompaniments for his songs. “Copenhagen”, from the band’s new album, In the Bright Rain, opens with a clean, hypnotic, syncopated guitar riff, which lesser musicians might have been content to repeat ad-nauseum. Instead, Gautreau adds two guitar counter melodies, each interlocking to create a dreamy backdrop under which a silky smooth bassline wanders, providing more than just harmonic support. In this way, Crushed Stars makes atmospheric music that many contemporary indie artists can’t, without the use of heavy drones, synths, and ambient noise.
Gautreau’s insistent use of heavy vocal filters, however, masks not only the lyrics, but also the fact that he sings quite well. Caught somewhere between Matt Berninger of The National and the bass-y, “Everybody Knows”-era Leonard Cohen, Gautreau’s voice is so suffocated with reverb here that it sounds distant and incongruous. On “Bedtime for Dreamers”, where he’s going for dreamy and detached, it sounds more tired and severed. This sound is de riguer for Crushed Stars, as evidenced by their 2010 release, Convalescing in Braille. Maybe they should ease off a touch, as suggested by Gautreau’s vocal performance with closer-to-normal levels of reverb on the penultimate track, “Take Flight”.
Despite the cold vocal ambiance, these songs radiate with a warmth and intimacy from their thickly textured arrangements, part of Gautreau’s attempt to “make a more optimistic record.“ On “Brighter Now”, the electric guitars are lively, the acoustic guitars are homey, the bass is round and comforting, the drums are mellow but keep up a moderate tempo, and Gautreau’s voice has a certain sincerity — that is, when it peeks out from behind its echo-soaked veil enough to offer up a lyric.
Essential Tracks: “Brighter Now”, “Copenhagen”, “Pretty Girls Are Everywhere”, and “Take Flight”