Last year’s project was tracked via a simple text file which I updated whenever I picked something off the list to become a particular entry. This year’s project involves a spreadsheet.

I know, right?

Sometimes the hardest part of a project is deciding where to begin. So I looked at the sorted-by-release-date list of albums in the spreadsheet, and right smack in the middle of the chronology (used to sequence the ten-minute sampler mix a couple weeks back) I found the perfect starting point.

What is it?

Visual Audio Sensory Theater is the debut album by a musical entity named with the acronym of that phrase, VAST. It arrived in late April of 1998, consists of a dozen tracks, and both is and isn’t indicative of where the band would go in the future.

How does it sound?

Like this:

Why this pick?

Back in the “wild west” days of the burgeoning Internet I dabbled in downloading of MP3s. (Don’t worry: I’m an honest respectable consumer of media now.) Among the tracks I found online were the first couple songs off of this record. I was hooked. On my next visit to the local record store, still a frequent part of my routine back then, I picked up this CD and listened to it all the way through, over and over during the subsequent weeks. There’s a sound to this thing that makes my brain fizz in just the right way. Maybe it’s the collision between grungy guitars and Gregorian-monk-style chanting loops. I’m no musicologist; all I know is “I like it, a lot.”

(Yes, the “Gregorian chant” thing was… a thing back in the ’90s.)

Which songs are the highlights?

The lead-off pair, “Here” and “Touched,” are a strong one-two punch. Midway through the album you get “I’m Dying,” which is my all-time favorite VAST track, followed by the lovely and quieter “Flames.” Everything afterward is good, with the untitled track right before the end marking another notable high point.

Which songs don’t work so well?

I’m not a lyrics guy for the most part, so now’s a good time to point out that most of what works for me about a piece of music is its overall sound rather than the meaning of the words. Unless the song’s an actual ballad with literal meaning I’m not going to get the point of the poetry.

With that said, what loses me about “Dirty Hole” and “Pretty When You Cry” can be guessed from the titles. They’re not bad songs for what I normally get from music, I just don’t enjoy listening to them all that much because the lyrical content is just distracting enough to dull the effect. Oh hey, if there’s a “parental advisory” sticker on the record in the store, it’s probably for “Pretty When You Cry.”

Not that I mind F-bombs in particular. Fair warning though, I figure.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

Nude was a very strong contender. It’s a couple albums down the line, after the record-label-mandated attempt at commercial success which was Music For People, so it exudes both the confidence of a successful musical act and the desire to push boundaries of a musical act which doesn’t want to be crammed into a particular box.

In the end, though, I had to go with the debut album. Why? Because I love it the most. Out of twelve songs, ten of them are four-star or better in my rating system. (More on that, shortly.)

With that said, please don’t take me for the sort of person who believes that a musician or band is at their best right at first and everything afterward is a disappointment. I hope to put such a notion to rest in the weeks to come.

Any final thoughts?

Not about the record itself, but about my rating system. I dithered for weeks on the decision not to include a full track listing with star ratings. It seemed redundant, given I already cover the high- and low-lights in the write-up. I will occasionally refer to my ratings for one song or another as we go, however, so I still need to at least talk about the system just a bit.

Here goes, a slightly reworded and reordered version of what I wrote most of a decade ago

  • Five stars? This song rocks my socks, and I don’t care what anybody else thinks of it. My love is pure and knows no bounds.
  • Four stars? Oooh, I like this song! I probably play it fairly often when I’m doing a listening session with headphones, and my random playlist in MediaMonkey is programmed to pick up anything four stars or higher to keep me pumped up while I work.
  • Three stars? Not great, not bad. This song is probably best used as background music.
  • Two stars? This is not a song I would go out of my way to listen to. I might even go out of my way to avoid doing so. I may or may not skip it when listening to the album all the way through.
  • One star? Please don’t play this song ever again. I hate mopping up the blood coming out of my ears. The only reason this track hasn’t been deleted is because I cringe at the thought of an incomplete record living in my library. (It’s not rational, I know this.)

And there you have it. Thoughts? Suggestions? Invective? Fawning adoration? Bring it on.