It takes a specific kind of person to operate as a multifaceted artist. Maybe it’s energy that a pedestrian population only dreams of obtaining or organizational abilities that rival the ranks of robots. How the sleepy scary Midwest birthed a boy such as Cody Critcheloe, and his space alien Americana moniker SSION, is an anomaly. Growing the project from self-released cassettes as early as 1999 to directing commissioned music videos for Robyn and Kylie Minogue, SSION isn’t simply a musician or a filmmaker. He’s a powerhouse of surrealistic alt-pop production.
It’s uncertain where we came upon an era of “alternative pop” but SSION would be a fucking master of it. Alt-pop, while retaining traditional structures and hooks, is more subversive, found in flares of the underground here and there, brushes of genres not at the forefront of capitalism’s marketable focus. It’s no surprise alt-pop has cropped up amongst art school princesses (ex. the Canadian scene that houses Grimes and Mozart’s Sister). Critcheloe didn’t have the advantage of urban settings though. He grew up in Kentucky and migrated to Kansas City where he laid the foundation for SSION.
“I hated Kentucky or at least the town I was from so Kansas City seemed like this huge thriving city. The transition was easy because I was going to school, surrounded by a lot of artists in a bubble. It was cheap and people were proactive. I live in NYC now but I go to LA a lot so I feel like I don't really live anywhere.” Visual artist Peggy Noland also made a connection from the Kansas City art scene to LA, partnering with Seth Bogart at Wacky Wacko in LA, part of an art and music scene Critcheloe has strong ties to (check out Slink’s “Pink Christmas”). Kansas City’s art institute’s “queer” scene flourishes in the middle of nowhere; however, Critcheloe doesn’t prefer to see it in these terms.
“We never thought or talked about it in that way which is why I think it was so cool. I think that kind of agenda can sometimes ruin things from being truly fun and weird. It was more about just making cool stuff and doing whatever you want.” Queerness is hard to put a finger on. It’s not simply out-weirding the bourgeoisie, but even in subtly long histories of camp and kitsch, gender bending, glamour and humour have been indicators for what an audience feels is “queer”.
The video work of SSION (both for his own music and those for others) has a stamp of surrealism. Critcheloe has directed videos for a plethora of artists, including the amazing Perfume Genius “Queen” (above), Lower Dens “To Live and Die in LA” and Dum Dum Girls “Lost Boys and Girls Club”, Santigold “Big Mouth” and artwork for Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Creative process is unknown, the end product is always complete, always cohesive. He dives in with dedication, details paid to every element. Nothing forsaken regarding wardrobe, sets, props, lighting and narrative, SSION’s 2012 Bent album was released alongside multiple polished videos that presented a solid persona to the world, this almost dissonant badass character lurking between alienation and melancholy with stature and style.
Many SSION videos use suburbia as a backdrop, strategically littered with absurdist elements. Long part of the conversation surrounding pop as a carrier for art, Critcheloe’s perspective reaches well beyond the saccharine and vapid of radio rotation. This is what separates SSION from pop scum, but even in mockery and humor, SSION releases total bangers that could rival those of Britney anyday.
SSION’s pop is punk in nature, sassy and sometimes ridiculously funny, great example being one of his most feel good, “Psy-chic”, referencing Courtney Love lyrics, blowjobs and drug dates. “Luvbazaar”s clubby catchiness ironically speaks of dissonance for romantics stuck in a wormhole of endless gay bars and Grindr. And in a duality of a more serious nature are songs like “Earthquake” with pick up trucks, crazy club wear, teen doom and gas stations witches, SSION himself in a pop art fucked country western spotlight crooning about heartbreak with a coolness that accepts a relationship’s end but attempts to bury the tenderness still percolating within.
SSION’s new album is currently in the works, undergoing a production process that often creates chaos. “It's really great but now I'm in purgatory which means that bad wolf in my soul is getting too much attention and stealing all the food, so I'm basically having to manage him.” How does he take a break? “I'm doing that through painting a lot. I forgot how much I love to paint. It keeps me thin.” Perhaps this is the personality of Cody Critcheloe. He is unstoppable, a shark that can not rest and must always create. Even in the need to pause and let a project breathe before moving forward, he still must create in the down time.
WUSSY is happy to have Cody Critcheloe visit ATL for our SPRUNG! Rococo Realness Danse Party event. His DJ set will be a conglomeration of what he loves at the moment ala a curation of good shit. “I love songs. If it's a great song I can get down with almost anything. I grew up loving pop then I got really into punk. Now I'm down for anything!”
SPRUNG! will be April 8th at the Heretic alongside DJ Esme (La Choloteca) and DJ King Atlas hosted by the glamsquad Dax Exclamationpoint, Kryean Kally, Pity Soiree, Michael Kemp and more. Doors at 10PM. $10.