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Now Hear This: Vast Caldera 1 - Vast Caldera

Rating: ****1/2

The word ‘cinematic,’ when applied to music, is overused, and for most critics, it usually means “there’s a lot going on here, it won’t fit in one of my boxes, and I think that’s a synthesizer.” But some music is truly soundtrack-worthy, with changes in tone and atmosphere that can only be described as ‘cinematic.’

Solo artist Justin Weiss (under the name ‘Vast Caldera’) has met this challenge with his new project, a five-song EP that, in just over sixteen minutes, underscores a rich landscape.

Watch video for "Dawn" on YouTube below:

One time, baked out of my mind on mushrooms, I watched the James Caan movie, ‘Thief,’ but actually, I spent most of that time ‘watching’ the score by synth legends Tangerine Dream. The ‘Vast Caldera’ EP feels like that experience, except I don’t have to open my eyes.

What makes it work is the layers. Now layering can be really effective, but when it doesn’t work, you’ve got an unsatisfying mish-mosh of textures, like ordering a ‘B-52’ from a bartender who doesn’t know how to do the spoon thing, so you just end up with a boring brown shot and you’re out twelve bucks. Vast Caldera is all about layers, and it works.

It’s a simple approach, and the simplicity adds to the beauty. Just like in a movie, where you don’t want the screen cluttered with unnecessary visual tricks, most of these five tracks consist of interesting guitar riffs placed on top of pulsating synthesizer—nothing extraneous, allowing the melodic guitar leads to breathe and move the album ‘story’ along.

This precise approach, and understanding of the language of storytelling, is especially evident in the two cuts that begin with what sound like an acoustic piano—album opener, ‘Romance,’ and the ironically titled closing track, ‘Dawn.’

On both of these, the opening keyboard chords are quickly pushed aside by the meatier guitar sounds. But even the brief piano moments move the music forward—not everyone realizes that the piano is technically a ‘percussion’ instrument (it’s got hammers inside, after all).

And for Vast Caldera, even the brief piano appearances signal something that’s driving and urgent. It’s not just sleepy, mushy, ‘New Age’ piano noodling.

All five tracks contribute to the story, but I particularly dig the bass-propelled third cut, ‘Glory,’ with its sneaky nod to disco strings, and its suddenly surging groove.

One more note about that last track, “Dawn.” If you have watched enough indie films (Sundance subscribers represent!), this cut feels exactly like what you would hear over the head-scratching final scene. Cue end credits. This is definitely an album you can watch with your ears.

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