I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
Welcome to my first review of a netlabel release. Don’t know what a netlabel is? Let me enlighten you, from Wikipedia: “A netlabel (also online label, web label, digi label , MP3 label or download label) is a record label that distributes its music through digital audio formats (such as MP3, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, or WAV) over the Internet. While similar to traditional record labels in many respects, netlabels typically emphasize free distribution online, often under licenses that encourage works to be shared (e.g., Creative Commons licenses), and artists often retain copyright.” This is fertile ground for up-and-coming artists; although, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of crap out there too (and a LOT of electronic/techno/drone/noise to sift through, which, trust me, isn’t really worth the effort). But I’ve found some gems. Group, keep close, and I’ll help you through it.
The all-lowercase cssc is just such a gem. The one-man post-space-rock-electro-gaze project of Blacksburg, West Virginia’s, Erik Rodriguez, A.M. busts through and announces itself to the world with the red-eyed post-NIN sci-fi creep of “Sleep Mode” and “Toss and Turn,” evoking both the chilling dread of Event Horizon and the into-the-unknown-but-you-know-it’s-going-to-end-badly-for-the-crew nail-biting of Sunshine. (I’ll stop hyphenating in a sec.) In fact, somebody just get this guy a sci-fi film to soundtrack. The clicky drum machine and cold synth and guitar tones immediately position the listener in the remote, metallic hold of a slow, drifting space vessel, alone and vulnerable, surrounded only by synthetic materials and artificial intelligence.
After “Panic,” which one must do at some point in a sci-fi thriller, tones warm up a bit, entering M83 and The American Dollar territory. There’s less darkness here in this passage – in fact, we enter more philosophical territory (see Moon or 2001). “Easy Breathes,” “Lull,” and “Early Morning Sigh” are titled perfectly to match their tone, and Rodriguez includes less synthetic drumming and more guitar, distorting the synths a bit too. We’re treated to the emotional resonance of everyday life on a space station or vessel, a combination of longing for home and a strong belief in the cutting-edge and life-changing work being done aboard.
It’s the last third of the record that really gets me though, the narrative making true sense and gaining momentum to a resolution. “Home” is the chiming, organic preparation of return to earth. Stretching over 8 minutes, the track is pure safety and hope, a glimpse of comfort, the beginning of the reminiscence of the great journey almost completed. “Drifting Off” is Earth entering the field of vision, the transport pod uncoupling from the master ship, and, halfway through the almost-8-minute track, the passage through the atmosphere accentuated by an eruption of shoegaze instrumentation. The pod lands successfully, the doors open.
Can you imagine our astronaut’s first steps on terra firma after the most amazing journey of his or anyone’s life – a journey to a different planet, or beyond, maybe a new solar system – and standing at a podium fielding questions in front of a ravenous and adoring press, taking it all in at slow motion, and realizing, in the blink of an eye, that there’s no way he’s going to top this, but understanding with a deep satisfaction that he has to try? “Just a Glimpse” is the soundtrack to that moment.
And “Sunrise” is the next day, ending the album with literal and psychological awakening, the sparse instrumentation accompanying slowly opening eyes gives way to silence and spare clicks until it dawns on the protagonist that it is in fact a new day, inviting in more lush guitars and keys. Here, though, it’s time to run joyfully, to leave behind life as he knows it, accepting that the greatness he’s achieved comes with a lifetime of living up to that greatness, and being invigorated by that realization.
I know I just described a film, but good Lord, this is a record we’re talking about here. Erik Rodriguez’s cssc is poised for great things: on one hand, this is a one-man outfit with electronic elements; on the other, his sound is huge, emotionally captivating, and worthy of repeat listens. He balances his influences with great success, and I’m extremely excited to hear what he does next.
(Please download the album at one of the links at the top – and enjoy!)
RIYL: God Is an Astronaut, instrumental Nine Inch Nails, Dead Cities era instrumental M83, Loss of a Child, The American Dollar