Christian Stephen filmed and edited the newest video for Vast Asteroid’s “Encrypted.” It’s the rare thing worth your time online. In fact, it’s an escape, to some extent, from the way time passes out of you and over you online, every day endangering your soul again. The song can help you fight it off. It’s about gifts and grace.
So listen to the song and watch the video, which features one of The Federalist’s writers, James Poulos. It’s the band in a bar. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be with popular music? You hang out somewhere, you might discover something. Those guys at that table might have a great story to tell. At some point, they might just get up and start playing something that can speak to your soul. They’re still strangers, but you’ve got something in common that makes you human.
But it’s also just another evening. You’re supposed to spend some time with your friends, to remember who you are and to be who you are. It’s not like memories, because your past doesn’t have to come alive. It really and truly is alive among them, as are you.
The long intro gives the busy energy of electric sound, the sound of our restless modernity, never quite acting on purpose, picking out the notes of our melodies or predicting our future. But then the guitar brings in music and the bass does something strange to soothe and reassure. All will be well while it carries you.
The musical past is there, too. I hear The Cure, circa “Wish,” and Jesus and Mary Chain echoed in the song, repurposed in an amazing way. The guitar line in the intro recalls the intro to “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea.” The vocal melody on the verse recalls the vocal melody of the J&MC song “Head On,” as covered by the Pixies. Maybe this is music you loved, too, or music you could learn to love.
Before we get to what’s unique, we should start with what’s mundane. That’s where we see who we really are. I love music that brings back the music I love. If people are still inspired by this, if it’s refined, in a way, in their souls, then what we’ve grown up with will have helped us grow up.
With good music, you’re better for being older and because of love. Having our feelings stirred is the quickest way to remember we’re human. We will recall the longings and the music will evoke the secrets that make up our separate but similar inwardness. When you stir to music, you know you have a soul, because you can feel the soul reaching out to something beautiful. You long for something, therefore you’re human.
Now, to the song sung. You can find the lyrics in the YouTube description, and you’ll see what a poem of devotion this turns out to be. But you first hear the soothing voice, a softness that seems at home in the growl of distorted guitars, which is how life is these days. The words, however, are not soothing. They talk about us being wounded, by the catastrophic consequences of our mistakes, about the suffering that is our bodily life when we discover just how intensely we love.
It’s not happiness that turns us to poetry and music, but our suffering, and here is a song that speaks to that suffering and shows an understanding of it that does not flinch. What we learn in shock, in surprise, is that we’re mortal and our inability to fix ourselves and make ourselves happy means our freedom begins to look like doom. This is not the opposite of love or the end of love, it’s just the necessary suffering and sacrifice that attends on it.
Then we get to a profession of faith. If music soothes, it is because it corresponds to the dearest wish that we be loved in return. Read the lyrics and notice how naturally we come to the most shocking thing in our popular music, the surrender of faith and the happy knowledge that we are in one sense authors of ourselves and in another sense authored, but not alone. In the mystery of our future, somewhere, lies the possibility of salvation.
This is a song that’s easy to listen to and can prompt whistling, but you have to read the lyrics to have any chance to understand what the man is saying. It’s worth making the effort of reading and trying to fit the feelings with this statement.
We don’t put much faith in our popular music, but we put so much faith in its power to transform our lives or protect us from the troubles of the times. This song works the other way around. It’s a song of faith, but it does not go forth to conquer the world, to enslave fans and enlist them into idolatry. Our celebrity-gods are pretty paltry anyway. But for the ones wounded by love looking for a way to understand what love corresponds to the innocence in our hearts, this would be a great song.
So there it is. This song underscores what Plato meant when he said music reveals the souls that yearn for the divine. We need more of this. An evening in a bar could hardly get better than a chance to come across something like this, and be surprised and sense the blessings and gifts music still makes possible for us. The song is a small revelation gesturing toward more. If you can love it, you can learn more about love.
I grew up in the ‘90s, so I remember, barely, what it’s like to feel pride of ownership and joy in buying an album. The music haunting the Internet is less real than what I have made my own. I’ve lived with it, it’s not just some thing that happens online and sweeps me up. I was happy to experience that again buying the Vast Asteroid album.
I understand the new world where everything on the Internet is supposed to be free, but can this new world understand that I felt gratitude in paying for this thing? It’s got to be tied up with the sense of loyalty involved in ownership. It makes me think about whether the next Vast Asteroid album will be a like joy.