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Austin Cesear - Cruise Forever

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Artist: Austin Cesear

Album: Cruise Forever

Label: Public Information

Review date: Nov. 7, 2012

The U.K.’s adventurous Public Information label is responsible for putting out this unexpected bit of ambient techno from San Francisco’s Austin Cesear. The way Cruise Forever alternates between rickety beat bricolages and gauzy ambience injects his debut album nicely into 2012’s dance-music conversation — a triumph of style, if not of form. Leaving open the question of beginner’s luck versus raw talent, this dislocated album feels like the work of an outsider who still grasps the importance of balancing reflexive originality with gestures toward the dancefloor, even as he remains on the sidelines, nodding his head and taking it all in. Certain tracks here share more than a little with the babbling sonics of Actress’s R.I.P, but temperamentally, this evokes nothing so much as the unpredictable microclimates of his home city.

Live jamming on hardware is the compositional logic of many of his peers, but Cesear’s music opts for a more deliberately composed approach, one that still allows for chance collisions. Irregular loops drift in and out of time on the album’s techno cuts. As loose-jointed as it sometimes gets, the relative independence of his strata rarely work against the momentum. It also gives Cruise Forever the sense of being both porous and inward, tattered and containing. Cesear introduces the album with "Cloud Hall," built around a warm, scuffing synth loop and bubbly sub-bass kicks that keep things spinning like a wobbly top; it’s also unseemly funky. Cesear’s hi-hats lag behind the beat, a soft clatter that doesn’t keep time as much as it bulges out, pushing against an imagined quantized grid.

This abdication of Airtight Techno Mastery doesn’t always pay off, as on the album’s longest track, "Shut In." Here Cesear’s loops creep out of the pocket only to phase back into the arrangement at odd intervals. The resulting Rorschach test is interesting in theory but leaves the listener stranded between sinking into the nine-minute excursion and the nagging effort to figure it out. "The Groove," on the other hand, is the album’s most crystallized moment, becoming a more unique and improbable amalgam the closer you look. With another rounded bass pulse flashing like a beacon in a thicket of disorganized chamber-music strings and a pitched-down vocal dragging itself through the mix, "The Groove" forms a stark contrast with the unobjectionable anonymity of DJ-tool techno, threatening as it does to transform into a cloud of hot ambience, or topple with an enduring clatter.

The album dutifully does the former on "Mountain Ascension," but that’s only after Cesear has located the intersection of Jon Hassell and Demdike Stare on "Peralta Place" and given clacking loop techno a whirl on "The Beast," which comes off like an idiosyncratic take on the screwed-down minimalism of the Prologue label. Yet, even at its most banging, Cruise Forever sounds spectral — ectoplasm where we expect flesh. This works as well as it doesn’t, meaning that Cruise Forever isn’t always the album it appears to be. As much a symptom of techno looking beyond its fortified walls as a reverent, individual assault from without, Cruise Forever’s successes and shortcomings aren’t easily summarized. Good thing the instructions come right there in the title.

By Brandon Bussolini

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