. issue IV : viii .
. artist : vost .
. album : vast .
. year : 2013 .
. label : self-released
. grade : b plus .
“And man, who bumps his head and fumbles in the dark because of his small day-born eyes, fears the ghosts of the dark above all things. In a way it is the fear of the tide, the night tide, I call it, because that is the way you come to feel it — invisible, imperceptible almost, unless it is looked for — and yet as you grow older you realize that it is always there, swirling like vapor just beyond the edge of the lamp at evening and similarly out to the ends of the universe. Maybe that is the real reason why men string lamps far out into country lanes and try to run down everything with red eyes that happens to waddle across the road in from of their headlights. It is cruel but revelatory: we are insecure, and this is our warfare with the dark.”
— Loren Eiseley, The Night Country
Vast is a terrific two-track debut from drone project Vost. It’s a creeping sepulchral thing that, with slithering fricative rattles, small squinty pinpoint cries, circling carrion-hunter riffs evoking Slint or Henry Flynt, winking tones of bounced light, and tolling sonic booms perfectly conjures a nocturnal caldera and — that chaperon — the psychological panic borne by stumbling through the dark (or what Loren Eiseley called “the night tide”). “Vast I” and “Vast II” are, at that, but it’s the agglomerated experience of these soundscapes and not the extent of the terrain that is so soberingly enormous, entire and unmeasurable. What with meditative soundscapes — the sway of birds in the wind, the propositional chirrups of tulips // wait … — it’s easy to underestimate the impact of the soundscape, of the aural without the visual: Vast’s listener — blindfolded in an abyssal cavern, a dank jungle wilderness, or, as in the album art, under the foggy spell of a loch, proceeding down the pier … — they have no such illusion. Like the humid chill of this fog, Vast’s weight is not precisely in it, but in around you.
“Vast I” deploys austere melody with a boiling shimmer underneath through a consumptive maw of drone. A gong mesmerizes the listener, but it’s the rhythm of some slow ritual, and on-beat choices are augmented with burnt, dispersed accentuation, like an oil splatter or a brand’s scorch. This technique facilitates the brilliant shift (at 3:15) merely by changing which toll is burnt. Beats aside, Vost uses grim, spare tools to intense effect. The queasy “Vast II” is vertigo and night blindness compounded — it’s worse to not see how far you have to fall. And “II” provides a plumb line, giving the listener something close-up to identify with or a held hand: the brooding guitar riff is both a placeholder for the surveyor and breadcrumbs for the lost listener. Since Vast is so echolocative, this sequential choice (“I” to “II,” with good reason!) causes superbly effective overload. The listener was vigilant for “I;” they must be stealthful in “II.” “I” seduces the listener, the novitiate, the outsider with its edge, its abyssal humidity, it’s polite concern, but these are ten minutes of persuasion, and “II” emends the sympathetic conditions, instead subjecting the undeceived to cold fright. “Vast II” conjures that something sublime in the vast dispassionateness of hypertrophic environments.
Vast is its — the — environment in choate control, but this is not a relief. Stultification into a hypnogogic state has its own terrors and pressures, and Vast’s listener, on a witless conveyor belt of drone, is craving a gondola. These soundscapes are echolocation for the spelunker so long underground: the starved listener soaks up the input until supersaturate, tuned to hypervigilance, wide-eyed and it’s no good. Vast speaks, and its passengers, straining to hear, smell their own fear.