There’s that word—impact. It shows up frequently, even when we’re not talking about meteors, molars, colons, or even asteroids. We could say affected, maybe effected, but we don’t, because we’re going for maximum impact. It gets ugly.
But sometimes we are talking about an asteroid, one that circles about before resuming its original trajectory and making impact. Do asteroids normally circle? I don’t know. I’m not going to Google it. I can tell you that Vast Asteroid—the latest offering from frontman James Poulos, this time with Mark Reback on percussion and Mimi Star on bass—does follow a circular path, one that ends just beyond where it started.
So, we find ourselves in a moment. It doesn’t offer a huge opportunity—it’s an album. But it does give us a chance to sit back and chill, to think about our next step, even if the next step is into an unknown hurtling. Our expanse is vast, after all.
Pay Attention to What Isn’t There
The chief architect, he tells us to pay attention to the vocals. We tell him that the last 18 minutes are mostly instrumental and the vocals in the part that isn’t instrumental are drawn from the intro. They also don’t come until roughly 16 minutes into said outro. By my really sloppy math, that means that for about 40 percent of the album we’re supposed to pay attention to what’s not there.
There’s a precedent for this, though. See, there’s this soundtrack to “Singles,” the romantic dramatic mildly comedic film from 1992. It was heavy on Seattle. At the end of the soundtrack, not-Seattle band Smashing Pumpkins showed up with “Drown.” It was notable for the fact that the song ends roughly halfway through then meanders along pointlessly for another four minutes. It’s forgivable. Frontman Billy Corgan was trying to do something, he just didn’t succeed.
That brings us to this other track that has even fewer vocals than “Drown,” but does have some meandering. Meandering doesn’t have to be boring. Was Robert Frost trying to depict peaceful ambling when he discussed two roads diverging in a wood? Don’t be silly.
Music to Crush Your Enemies By
No, he was talking about purpose. Intentional steps. That’s where “Drown” goes to the misreading of Frost and “Spacegaze” captures what Frost was getting at. We’re children of the ‘90s. We need an enemy-crushing soundtrack, and we need it to rock. It just took us a while to grow up and chart this, to lay out our strategy and to finish what we started a few decades ago, to pick out the path we would travel by.
It was bound to happen. We latchkey children, friends of latchkey children, fruits of the high-flying ‘80s and despondent ‘90s, have been poised to take over for a while now. To assert cultural dominance despite the preponderance of attention that the millennials garner. They do outnumber us, so it’s not ridiculous that they get all the attention. Besides, it’s cool. Gen X thrives on low expectations.
But we’re Clark Griswold now. We have office jobs and mortgages and crunch enhancers and kids and other concerns. Not necessarily all of them, but at least a couple of them. We’re upper-middle management. Or we’re musical poet warlords offering emotional support to those in middle management.
So, our dominance isn’t complete—we need to get into the CEO chair—but it is influential both culturally and financially. That’s why we wait for “Spacegaze” to loop back to the beginning. We’re accustomed to waiting. We know the end is the beginning is the end. We know sometimes we need to be loud, but not necessarily talk. We know our season is coming.
Start at the Beginning
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though, talking about the final track on the album, not the beginning’s swirling vocals and guitars. It’s more of a soundscape than a song, setting the scene for the remaining seven tracks, asking us to save ourselves and telling us it’s all over now. It’s a funny way to start an album, but that’s how we roll. It makes more sense once we get to the third track.
That one is a slower number called “Drown.” Wait, which year are we on? Okay, 2017. We’re leaving things to chance. In ‘92 we were angry over that time dad forgot pick us up from soccer practice. In 2017, we’re hurtling. We’re preparing to climb together, Poulos invites us to live inside a vivid dream.
Eventually, we all come down, we all walk back in the dead of the night. We get encrypted, we squeeze the venom from a poison fang. It’s cool, though. The effects are perfect, the production sublime. The guitars swirl just right, the bass rumbling, the drums keeping our fingers tapping. But then it’s time to be taken home, before we trouble anyone anymore.
Into the Great Vastness
It’s a good thing, as Martha Stewart often says when describing her cookbook “In the Kitchen with Gen X” or talking about sending us home with goodie bags. The best parts of the ‘90s have culminated with Vast Asteroid. It’s a jelly, all simmered down. No, it’s a jam. There are still some chunky bits. Let’s remember our source material, the time period that made this album possible.
Angst was the overarching theme. Foreboding. It’s ridiculous in hindsight. Those were some good years. We didn’t appreciate them, because appreciation is decidedly unsexy. But “Spacegaze” is sexy. It’s the great expansive calmness, it’s a sunny omen. It’s something we can all appreciate, even if it’s decidedly lacking in vocals.
Despite that—or maybe because of that—it’s effective, impactful even. The musicians take us on an aural escapade, one befitting a rocket launched in the ‘90s and making landfall in 2017. Just as Gen X has improved with age, so has the pure distillation of music from our formative years. Rock and roll is alive, its enemy-crushing prowess honed, and when we get to the end, we’re reminded that the journey isn’t over. The music circles back, the vocals return, and off we go again into the vastness that life offers.