Review Summary: A dark, haunting alternative record which showcases great talent in Jon Crosby, and introduces the world to VAST.
In the late 1990s music scene, which was increasingly dominated by nu metal, hip hop and Britney Spears, it was easy to overlook the existence of a band like VAST. Jon Crosby's mostly one-man project began early in his life and compiled in to this first eponymous record in 1998. Luckily, songs from this record were among the first songs I listened to that piqued my interest in rock music, and music in general.
This album has characterized the sound of VAST in future records, though the music has changed quite a bit. Generally, it can be categorized as an alternative rock / industrial record. What makes this album "industrial-like" is the heavy usage of chanting. Crosby likely sampled recordings of Eastern monks chanting and used it routinely in the album. And that is what makes it so unique.
1. Here - 9 - The first song takes a while to open up, but when it does, introduces a crunchy guitar with a good beat. Crosby's vocals blend very well with the song as well. Soon, a "tribal" like sound is introduced, and follows the same rhythm as the guitar. This wilderness-like feel pervades through the song, and allows the listener to get a good feel of the songs to come on the record.
2. Touched - 10 - Arguably the most famous song to come off the record, and by VAST overall. Song begins with some acoustic guitar and calm singing by Crosby, which goes well with the music. Female chanting then takes over, and this chanting has a bit of a Amazon-like feel through it. This pervades through the whole song, and moves through musical highs and lows. With the lyrics, it gives the song a sexy, supernatural feel. Definitely a song to check out, as a music fan.
3. Dirty Hole - 9 - The song begins with a depressing, brooding sound and follows with Crosby singing about dead children. A organ sound is heard, and is followed by a chain-gang-like chant throughout of "how many dead men God?" One of the more depressing songs in the album, but builds up in intensity. Crosby's vocals are rather intense in this song, giving him a defiant, victim-like persona in the song.
4. Pretty When You Cry - 10 - Another more well known song by VAST. It has a music video! Anyhow, the song begins with a heart beat sound, and is followed by Crosby's low vocals. Unlike the previous song, we see a role reversal, as Crosby's persona in this song is of the offender, not the victim. The song builds up some more, and we have a several types of chanting during the refrain parts. It alternates between Crosby's light vocals and the heavy chanting. As the song becomes more intense and climaxes. Another great song lyrically as well.
5. I'm Dying - 10 - This is the first song to begin with chanting, as opposed to Crosby singing. A more Buddhist Monk-like chant in this song, with some organ playing the background. The lyrics indicate confusion over Christianity, which makes for powerful subject material. The instruments kick in about 1/4 of the way into the song and give the song a nice broody feel, but is not too slow. Crosby's vocals alternate between yelling and regular tone, giving the song a very intense feel. The last third of the song is heavier, and features a second guitar, which makes this section layered and heavy. Some distorted electronic vocals are also well-placed here.
6. Flames - 7.5 - After some intense song, we get to "Flames, which is noticeably more calm. Features acoustic guitar, cello and violin. Some very good vocal work by Crosby, as he uses the highs and lows of his vocal capabilities here. This song seems like a good spacing between some heavy songs. However, I am a little impartial to it. Maybe got too amped up from the previous tracks.
7. Temptation - 8.5 - This song begins with some acoustic guitar and alternates with some heavy drum beats and electric guitar. Before the chanting even begins, we get a real wilderness like feel from the song. Maybe the music and lyrics evoke that feel. Then some female chants kick in and we have a VAST song going. The "can you save me from myself" lyrics by Crosby stand out great in this song. This song easily has some of the more catchy hooks in all of the record.
8. Three Doors - 8 - This song has a bit of a musical intro before Crosby sings. Alternative-sounding rock, with a decent beat that starts. Lyrics aren't the greatest in the refrain but are decent in the chorus. This song has an interesting bridge with a distorted voice speaking. An interesting song overall, that sounds like it belongs in this record as decent filler.
9. The Niles Edge - 7.5 - Begins very slowly, with an Egyptian-sounding effect to it. Chanting then follows with some low vocals by Crosby. Very slow, mellow and dark, plodding along. Soft singing is followed by singing of greater intensity, and the music picks up a bit from the slow pace. The music and vocals pick up in the last third of the song a bit. The song is actually about Jon Crosby never meeting his dad.
10. Somewhere Else to Be - 7 - Begins with a dark wind-like noise that pervades through the song. Song picks up soon and has a dark-tinged feel throughout. It is about running away, a theme that becomes more common in the next record. Anyhow this song is alright I guess. Probably the worst song on the record in my opinion. Oh yeah, has some chanting in the last third.
11. [Untitled] - 9.5 - This nameless instrumental track appears to glide right off the previous track, in that it borrows the same exact chanting pattern. Also borrows some of the same beat. Sounds a bit like "Dirty Hole" in the beginning but then goes in its own direction, with the "Somewhere Else to Be" chants used throughout. Features several instruments including some very good cello/violin. One of my favorites from the record.
12. You - 9 - Begins with a synth tone that sounds like a generic "computer noise," which is present through the rest of the song. Some calm sounding presence comes in and is followed by some piano/keyboard playing. Great vocal work by Crosby, which is resonated in echos after his singing. The song builds up by the halfway point and features some really strong vocals, but remains mellow. The song gradually dies down after some of the same music that was played prior. Hard to describe it, but it is a very powerful song.
Cohesiveness - 10 - The songs all sound like they belong in a collection.
Album Art - 9 - Like a brown eye converging with a blue eye. Plus for the VAST logo imagery.
Upshot - Again, I may be partial to this record as it helped introduce me to how good music is. But anyone who loves music, and is willing to explore other genres in rock should listen to this. A lot of chanting is used, and could turn off people. But I think it only adds to the record and makes it what it is.