Hailing from the West Coast of the USA and sporting a name like a lost disco producer, you’d be forgiven for thinking Austin Cesear is one of the latest contemporary producers on 100% Silk creating vintage leaning house. In reality, Cesear’s debut album Cruise Forever marks him out as something of an outsider to this scene, exploring darker and more cerebral territory that wouldn’t sound out of place on labels like Modern Love or PAN. This of course will be unsurprising to anyone following the releases of Public Information, the UK based label responsible for the record’s release, whose output seems to share a common sense of otherworldliness, existing in the gaps between library music, techno and psychedelia.
Cruise Forever is dance music which is crumbling and decayed, much like the recent work of Andy Stott and Actress, but to simply classify Cesear as an imitator would do him a great disservice. What he achieves on his, which neither Stott nor Actress has really done to the same extent, is create a coherent narrative between tracks and create a sense of place, bringing to mind a Philip K Dick style alternate reality where techno was invented in the 1950s by a decimated civilisation living in tanks below the ground while irradiated sandstorms weather the surface above. “Cloud Hall” opens with the same kind of chopped up greyscale digital ambience of Stott’s We Stay Together track “Submission”; easing into a bellowing mid-tempo kick drum and dusty claps, a twinkling arpeggio settles over the top like the pieces from a blasted out window falling in slow motion, while interlude track “If You Knew What Would You Do” which follows it zooms out of the scene, offering a sonic representation of the scorched earth surrounding it. There are slightly less cinematic tracks; “The Groove”, with its “can you feel it?” line and churning bassline explicitly references 80s Chicago house, while “The Beast” with its straight up 4/4 kick and hi-hat combo is an excursion into Jeff Mills territory, but the effect is still never anything less than engrossing. Rather than pastiche, what you get is the steampunk version, music that gives a fictionalised “what could have been” rather than a slavish and hollow Ableton emulation of past tropes.
When the inevitable synths do kick in – such as on the nine minute long “Shut In” – they’re never allowed to dominate the canvas, reflecting white light off their rippling surface rather than bleeding neon, and it’s this skilful balancing act between light and dark (reflected on the cover art) that impresses so much across Cruise Forever. The album closes with “In The Depths Of The Ocean Is Our Capitol” and “Travellers In Faith Dub”, where the glassy motion picture soundtrack collage of the former blends into the other’s eternal drone cloud specked with distant lightning bolts singing in melodic unison, and listening to it feels like watching past events on a black and white television set with the world collapsing around you. Cesear’s uniquely paranoid vision of a blasted American landscape is bleak, yes, but soporifically beautiful nonetheless.
1. Cloud Hall
2. If You Knew What Would You Do
3. The Groove
4. Forest Forever
5. Peralta Palace
6. The Beast
7. Mountain Ascension
8. Shut In
9. In The Depths Of The Ocean Is Our Capitol
10. Travellers In Faith Dub