Saturday, October 3, 2009

Big empty

Me and You
Score: 6

Over the past decade and a half, VAST have migrated from heavy, deftly programmed rock whirling with monk-chant samples to the comparative humility of unplugged instruments. Throughout, founder Jon Crosby has remained enamored with orchestras, and cello and violin embellish the traditionally structured rock of Me and You, implying human frailty in "She Found Out" and cushioning the knock of hand drums on the somber reflection "Here's to All the People I Have Lost." Harmonica, too, flecks some songs, adding a melancholy breeze to the plucked acoustic guitar of "You Are the One." Me and You doesn't forgo electric guitar, but the instrument isn't dominating the proceedings either.

Although hampered by several trite lines --- "It's Not You (It's Me)" slaps its groaner right in the chorus and title --- Me and You delivers Crosby's strongest songwriting in years. In what could be a loose concept album, the tracks outline a dysfunctional romance (or more than one), complete with resentment, obsession, fear, lies and infidelity. There's a voyeuristic quality to it, as if Crosby were exposing private sex scandals.

The waltzing "I'm Afraid of You" goes Freudian, suggesting that toxic braids in a couple's lineage set them up to make bad choices romantically. "You have a degree in photography," Crosby rumbles, "and you take it out on me." Details follow in the next song, "You're the Same": "She takes pictures of herself / with nothing on / She wants to hurt me."

"You're the Same" is not a waltz. It uses its brooding background of acoustic guitar to impale us with stark pronouncements: "She reaches into me / with hands I cannot feel." "She wants to leave me."

"How can I lose something I never had?" Crosby asks in anguished disbelief.

The bitter "You Destroy Me" locks in its hold with gentle, tom-centric drumming and the clap of a tambourine. The gliding electric guitar lines resonate the ache of forever wishing for consummation and being cursed to never have it. Crosby sings, "You destroy me / when you walk into the room / You destroy me / and you always will."

And when you can't obtain the devastating beauty, who do you go to? "Hotel Song" puts our faces up to the peephole to catch a liaison, likely with a mistress. Whether the place was a four-star or a no-star, the sign out front might as well have read BIG EMPTY, for the man takes little consolation in the meeting. As he puts it, "Tonight I'm yours, and / you're kinda mine."

We know there won't be a feel-good ending. The violin and cello bear that out. "She Found Out" is the pitiful plea of the wretched, perhaps from the rumpled bed of the hotel room. Crosby's voice is meek here as it rises up from some frightened place. "Wait / wait with me," the man implores his companion, knowing that his indiscretions have been discovered, that his partnership will shatter imminently. He knows that. He knows he's going to lose everything. What scares him most is facing that end alone.

At very least, he has the strings.

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