Music doesn’t exist in isolation. Many factors influence how a song makes you feel, including the song that precedes it, whom you hear it with, your surroundings and your state of mind. Every once in a while, I happen to listen to a song in an atmosphere that causes me to fall in love with it, when I likely wouldn’t have in any other place or time.
I have depression. At my lowest points, I physically can’t stop myself from crying, and working on music is the only thing I’ve found that rescues me from breaking down further. On a more regular basis, my depression manifests in the very typical form of being unable to get out of bed. Most mornings, I lie in bed for a long time after waking up — sometimes many hours — even if I have obligations. Eventually I’ll open Spotify in bed and start listening to music, hoping to jumpstart my brain and wake myself early enough to eat lunch at a normal time of day. Not long ago, I was lying in bed doing just that, listening to music and nearly falling back to sleep when a song came on with vocals so beautiful they jolted me awake within seconds. I can’t explain why, but I realized immediately that the song would become special to me. “Navigating” by Astrale had been in my playlist for over a week before that day, but for some reason it was from that point on that I felt so viscerally connected to it.
“Navigating” is the lead single from The Things You Cannot See, Astrale’s sophomore EP that also heavily features vocalist and co-writer Noah “wydnr” Weidner. After gaining recognition for his previous releases, including the Escapism EP in 2018, Astrale was wracked by uncertainty about his music. In his own words, he was “tired of making the same thing over and over again.” He returned to his bedroom studio to redefine his sound and re-evaluate the vision he wanted to pursue. Eight months later, his effort has culminated in The Things You Cannot See, a collection of tracks that tell his story through atmospheric electronic instrumentation and monologues that feel like confessions.
Lately I’ve been paying closer attention to songs that contain more innovative sounds and don’t follow the typical structure of a modern-day pop song. I find that producers express their artistic vision more honestly through tracks that are not written to be festival-friendly hits. Listening to The Things You Cannot See on repeat while writing this article has been a huge pleasure because only one of the four songs, “Disquiet,” has a more conventional format and sound. Make no mistake,“Disquiet” is still a solid track, but the rest of the EP just emotionally devastates me.
The intro and outro songs of The Things You Cannot See appropriately bookend the story of self-discovery that Astrale is telling through the EP. Accompanied by a breathtaking arrangement of melodies, the monologue of opener “Breathe In” reveals Astrale’s state of mind at the beginning of his story — discouraged, audibly glitchy and uncertain. When his metaphorical artistic journey concludes at the end of the EP, “The Things You Cannot See” unearths his new outlook on life, his acceptance of the unknown and a resolve to persevere. Popular music in the electronic scene usually involves having a danceable beat, so “Breathe In” and “The Things You Cannot See,” as mostly ambient tracks, are not meant for mainstream consumption. However, they depict the essence of Astrale’s artistic vision, which certainly makes them more meaningful than songs that are written to please a crowd.
Of all the songs on The Things You Cannot See, “Navigating” remained the most striking to me even after I heard the rest of the EP. Although Slyleaf’s vocals are what jolted me awake that morning, I feel that the track’s minimalistic production is what gives it the most meaning. The production guides you slowly through waves of echoing vocals and filtered melodies that seem to last forever, before culminating in a sudden crash of glistening chords. However, the stunning drop lasts only four bars before the track returns you to sparse, pensive instrumentation.
To me, “Navigating” perfectly encompasses Astrale’s journey to the realization of his vision. I relate to the song with how I’ve felt recently as well. After I decided a couple months ago to make writing music full-time my end goal, I have slowly been discovering my own vision for music and how I want to express myself through it. “Navigating,” with its melodies that seem to last forever, feels like a search for a destination that doesn’t exist. In a way the search for a vision is endless for many artists — visions will continue to adapt and shift along with our radically changing world. Records like The Things You Cannot See are just one successful manifestation of one vision. Sooner or later, we’ll be navigating to the next one.