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Ssion is a band led by Cody Critcheloe and their latest album is Bent (Jun 2011, self-released).Read More...
As an BFA student at the Kansas City Art Institute, Critcheloe produced an animated short called The Lemon Cookie Revolution. Effectively, and often hilariously, blurring the two most popular definitions of "cult" beyond recognition, Critcheloe imagined himself poisoning his heroes with delicious snacks of the film's title, thereby assuming a place among them in the cred-fed indie pantheon. It's a crude and campy stop-motion animation piece with a soundtrack boasting Wire and the Pet Shop Boys, and it allows Critcheloe to indulge his two fascinations: ironically chiding subcultural "outsiders", and indulging in over-the-top wish-fulfillment fantasies. In his narrated introduction to the film, he introduces its two themes thusly: "Underground music cult figures you've probably never heard of, nor do you even care about. My second favorite thing in the whole wide world is, without a doubt, revolution."
If "Fear Us", from Fool's Gold, Ssion's second album, is any indication, Critcheloe is now a member in good standing. The song documents (as "we") a caricatured, nihilistic hipster netherworld-- mirrored in the album's butched-out cover image-- as a cartoonish, unambiguously bold amalgam of gay subcultural stereotypes, which Critcheloe both calls attention to and celebrates. In the Revolution short, an ejaculating penis is a recurring motif symbolizing rapture, and Gold's first single, "Street Jizz", similarly approaches orgasm and its byproducts as the (equally metaphoric and literal, no doubt) quintessence of experience, the "white light" that pierces the dark of night. Any revolution needs converts to succeed, though, and the song's chorus doubles as a recruitment slogan: "It feels more dirty than it really is." As an anthem, "Jizz" is also ridiculously catchy and simple: Critcheloe's exhortations echo atop a buzzing synth melody doubling a spry disco bassline, with a refrain dripping with affirmation and aspiration.
Appropriately for music that makes smut sound so enticing, Fool's Gold vacillates between glossy disco and squalid electro-punk. Between the kinky "Warm Glove", the petulant screamalong "Dayjob", and "Bullshit", Critcheloe's voice, buffered by plenty of fuzz and the occasional sax squonk, finds a middle-ground between the late-1990s incarnation of Royal Trux's Neil Hagerty and a spit-shined Darby Crash. Despite the textural shifts, the optimistic sentiment stays the same throughout: like CSS' "Fuckoff is Not the Only Thing You Have to Show", or Scissor Sisters' "Mary", Critcheloe keeps his advice blissfully simple: "Don't let the bullshit get you down."
Ssion's tendency to weave sympathy and encouragement through the naughty bits-- erasing the boring distinctions between partying, sex, music, and boundless, delirious dreaming-- clearly aligns them with CSS, Scissor Sisters, and Junior Senior, their fellow purveyors of devilishly simple, self-reflexive, and undeniably catchy dance-pop. Fool's Gold kicks off with "Clown", a sinuously funky piano-driven disco jam that extols the virtues of using the club to take (not lose) control. It's impossible not to hear the refrain "pride, faith, heart and soul" as anything other than a statement of purpose, and in this context, the decision between living in the "trenches," or in a "house with picket fences" shouldn't take very long to make.
While it's clear which of the two is more enticing, the glimmering banger "A Wolves Eye" still allows for keeping "your head in the clouds" while slinking through the underground. That metaphor extends to Fool's close; over an ecstatic, quasi-gospel synth shriek, "Heaven" proffers the same sort of take-no-prisoners approach from The Lemon Cookie Revolution (and hinted at in the title to the band's 2003 album Opportunity Bless My Soul): "Just to get you all dancin'/ I'd hold god up for ransom." In order to find redemption, sometimes it's just easiest to take out the deities and install yourself in their place.