Crushed Stars – In the Bright Rain

Crushed Stars - In the Bright Rain

When it comes to dream pop, it’s difficult not to succumb to the genre’s inherent charm.  Sure, the general murkiness will often leave you feeling anesthetized, but who wouldn’t be at least slightly assuaged by undulating guitar arpeggios and gauzy vocal melodies soaked in cathedral levels of reverb?  Haphazard metal and hackneyed punk are easy to dismiss due to their typically acerbic nature, but mediocre dream pop often flies under the critical radar because it effortlessly conveys a sense of affability.

Such is my conundrum with Crushed Stars, the Todd Gautreau-led group that’s been spinning out halcyon bits of shoegaze music for more than a decade now.  Indeed, anyone who’s heard the group’s most recent LPs – 2008’s Gossamer Days and 2010’s Convalescing in Braille – is fully aware that Gautreau has a penchant for the stuff; every cymbal roll and keyboard plink shimmers and gleams with irresistible loveliness.  This same enchanting atmosphere pervades the newly released In the Bright Rain, a record whose ubiquitous comeliness unfortunately results in a sense of malaise.

Gautreau manipulates his palette with considerable finesse on In the Bright Rain, but it’s a stubborn reliance on subterranean vocal effects that give the album its labored, weary tone.  “Bedtime for Dreamers” provides us with an immediate taste of this somnolence with Gautreau singing in a rumbling baritone as two open-voiced guitar chords establish a reflective yet contented milieu.  “Brighter Now” seeks to reverse the nocturnal mood set by the opening track, but once again, Gautreau’s unaffected vocal style imbues this otherwise jangly pop tune with hints of passivity and aloofness.

Songs like “Pretty Girls Are Everywhere” and “Copenhagen” are irrefutably gorgeous, particularly when Gautreau steps away from the mic and lets everything else coalesce into a swirling mélange.  On the latter he sings, “I feel my energy rebound / I’m ignited,” but it comes off as smoke and mirrors.  Both tracks make deft application of wordless vocal melodies and two-chord simplicity, but these tricks are used so pervasively elsewhere – particularly on numbers like “Window” and “Color Kites” – that they take on a trite predictability.

Since so many of the same textures appear again and again – woozy vocals, spacious drumming, sparkling fretboard work – the arrival of a piano on “The House on the Hill” feels positively pioneering.  Ironically, the song is also the only cover to surface on the album, a lost gem by British musician Kevin Godfrey, who died in 1997.

In some ways, listening to In the Bright Rain is like taking in a blockbuster Michael Bay action movie – all of the special effects are immediately gratifying to our senses, leaving us in awe by the spectacle of it all.  Sooner or later though, it will be questioned just how much substance was buried beneath that glistening veil.  In the case of Crushed Stars, there’s precious little.  It’s undoubtedly a feast for the ears, but eschews fervent emotions and multifarious source material in order to placate its audience.