Wastelanders is the side project of Winters in Osaka performer Dean Costello. That project also creates long-form pieces that tend to use the vibrational textures of bass and synth to form a thick sludge, but with Wastelanders, Costello creates airier and more ethereal pieces; it’s something more akin to the ambient side of drone than, say, Sunn 0))). Cosmic Despair is the only release I can find from Wastelanders except for the Total Desolation tape put out on Calls & Correspondence, yet this album feels like a very good start for the project, and the five tracks on it are inspirational enough to suggest Costello will be back again with another release soon.
“The Beginning”, a track that does exactly what its title suggests, works slowly throughout its six and a half minutes, combining a quieter synth roll with a heavy dose of grated organ at the mid-minute mark. What’s great about Cosmic Despair is how much of the sound is so sustained it causes goosebumps; these are beautiful pieces of music, drifting onward but never aimlessly. Stare into the cover of the album and you’ll find yourself floating through the space that it entails.
It’s not all about the droning ambience, though. “Abstraction” fits into the noise niche with a few harsher sustained cords, and Wastelanders includes a lot of warped sounds along the way that cause a conflict within the sound. Does the noise threaten to overtake the peaceful solitude of tracks like “The Beginning” and “Cosmic Despair”? Perhaps, but that’s what makes these sounds so good and alive instead of the blander ambient recordings being released.
The last two tracks are the longest by far on this release, and they make up the second “half” of the disc. “Expanding Mental Universe” drops the generic approach at crafting drones for lots of reverb-laden synth blips, high notes that echo throughout the track to create a hazy atmosphere. Then it all comes to a head in the middle minutes with a distorted and raucous guitar buzzing, which brings excellent depth to the tones. “The Crossing” features more drone territory but also combines clean guitar riffs and, towards the end, some bongos, making it a soothing experience to come down from the previous track and end the disc.
Cosmic Despair is a very cathartic experience, and Wastelanders brings a new angle to a genre that really doesn’t change much from release to release. While there are tracks that stick to the drone formula quite clearly, there are others that deviate from that path; they’re never harsh on the ears, but they do work towards some heavy climaxes. It’s certainly a release that listeners can get lost in easily, making it worth multiple listens at different times of the day and year.