From the opening notes of New Elements (the sophomore release by local singer/songwriter Darien Crossley, who goes by just her first name on stage), it’s easy to get caught in the spell of sweeping vocals and the complicated poetry.
"My shoulder blades burn in early morning. I lay awake, I'm listening to the soft prayer of their steady breathing. Dear, I will always answer you," Crossley sings on "Atlas."
The album is at turns wrenchingly beautiful and sweetly charming, shot through with the twilit hum of cello, crisp snap of snare and Crossley's ethereal voice. Nowhere does Elements sound sophomoric, though this musician is barely more than a sophomore herself. A senior at Carolina Day, Crossley writes with a wisdom beyond her years.
Which is to say, Elements is not the carefree romantic musings of a teen girl. "It's a reflection of my journey into adulthood," says Crossley. "This has been a time of transitioning and growing up. That's sad sometimes. You're letting go of childhood, you're learning that things aren't innocent anymore. But as you're losing whatever goodness came with childhood, there's also the realization that you can handle it."
She says that she likes giving people something they can relate to. "I'm a girl at 17 dealing with this stuff, but I want to leave it open to interpretation," she says. There are notes of hope in Elements, but also edges of pain and glimpses of places maybe unfamiliar to many teenagers.
"They said you smiled like Saint Catherine when she was broken from the outside in," she sings on "Hospital Sounds," a lilting track haunted by the the bruised poignancy of vintage Suzanne Vega.
This is a bit of a departure from Crossley's 2010 debut, Theorem. That glossy pop collection of interesting rhythms of intricately crafted verses revealed a literary and precocious girl. The girl of Elements is still whip-smart, but also slightly world-weary — a facet that adds to the album's off-kilter likability. It's also lush, fleshed out with steel pedal guitar and piano, including a delightfully whimsical keys part from Nick Stubblefield on the otherwise trenchant "Hurt People."
"I like jingly, fast melodies, but the stuff in my head doesn't necessarily sync with everything. I like songs where it's fun to play and it's loud and boisterous and rock 'n’ roll-ish, and everyone is like, 'It's such a happy, upbeat song,' but there's more to it than that," says Crossley. She began work on Elements at Landslide Studio (where Theorum was conceptualized and produced), but completed the project at Echo Mountain.
Of the difference between this project and the last, Crossley says, "It means more if you planned it out." She says that while Theorum evolved from a group of disparate songs, Elements began with "a firm idea in my mind" and a newfound confidence in undertaking the recording process. She’s also self-assured enough to take this collection of songs and perform them solo (as she’ll do at her CD release party at The Lab next week.)
“It doesn’t reflect the album, but it does [show] the two sides of my music,” she says. “I think it works. It’s just a matter of the degree to which I want to communicate.” Crossley says that while some people prefer a full band, others like a “mellow singer/songwriter acoustic thing.”
“I feel good about it either way,” she adds, “as long as I’m doing something people enjoy.”
Crossley also seems fairly confident about her next step: To finish high school and then take some time off before college in order to travel around Europe. But this is no mere backpacking trip — Crossley plans to take her guitar and tour in cities like Prague, Paris and Rome. "So much of high school, you feel like you're halfway to being a person," says Crossley. "Now it's like, go and do your music and be in the world. I'm so happy that I can get out and play for people."
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Darien with Mystery Cult
where: The LAB
when: Friday, Dec. 30 (