Strange Alchemy

“Clown” by the Ssion, from Fool’s Gold:

Cody Critcheloe had a dream: to make the gayest record ever. To realize his dream, the Kentucky-born Kansas City Art Institute grad and ringleader of art-punk collective the Ssion enlisted friend Ashley Miller, a sarong-wearing weirdo who, when he’s not barefoot, might be seen wearing furry flip-flops made from a pair of Ugg boots that his mom used to own.

“It started out as us making a gay record,” Critcheloe says. “And then pop trumped gay.”

The mustachioed fashion plate and the kid from outer space crafted 10 delicious nuggets of disco pop that could get a party started in the food court at Oak Park Mall as easily as a club in the West Bottoms.

Available on iTunes, and the band’s MySpace page, Fools Gold marks the seventh incarnation of Critcheloe’s ever-evolving band, and if you haven’t heard it, you’re doing your dancing shoes a disservice .

But the road to Gold wasn’t gold-paved.

Last year, Critcheloe decided to adopt a back-to-basics approach reminiscent of the Stooges. He did away with the Ssion’s trademark canned music and animal costumes — and with them, the live show that had brought the band popularity on the electroclash circuit during its stint in New York City five years ago. Soon, however, the stripped-down approach became stifling.

“I felt limited,” Critcheloe says. “I feel like the band did, too.”

Critcheloe began working with Miller on “Street Jizz,” an electronic dance song about cruising a park for sex. That song would become the model for the new Ssion’s sound.

Critcheloe dissolved the backing band once and for all and returned to prerecorded music, enlisting drag
queens and thin, barely dressed prettyboys to share the stage in front of a backdrop of his own animations.

“I missed the video element with the punk thing,” says Critcheloe, whose absurd and colorful graphics graced the Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ breakout release, Fever to Tell.

“Street Jizz” stirred Critcheloe’s creative juices, and he and Miller got to work.

First, the two went to gay bar Missie B’s for inspiration.

“That physical space helped me as a reference,” Miller says.

Miller’s other project, Pewep in the Formats, isn’t exactly known for its accessibility, so Critcheloe introduced him to 1980s Hi-NRG dance tracks and contemporary hits from Scott Storch, who has produced Beyonce, Pink and Paris Hilton.

The two spent three intense weeks churning out the album in Miller’s studio, with contributions from Snuff Jazz sax master Mark Southerland.

Former Ssion-er and Late Night Theater alum Shannon Michalski (the librarian on this week’s cover) also cameos, singing a hilarious and misguided feminist anthem aptly titled “The Woman”: Not one of you will be left behind … because every woman is a woman.

Gold is pure dance-party pop, but Critcheloe hasn’t abandoned his punk roots. On “Day Job,” he snarls, I don’t wanna do this/I don’t wanna do that, evoking the GermsDarby Crash at his most snide.

Like a true punk, Critcheloe is very DIY about the distribution of Fools Gold. For now, the only way to obtain a physical copy of the disc — which comes with the best illustrated liner notes ever — is from the guy himself.

And if you live out of town, the only way to see the band live is on YouTube. His summer project is to create a video for every track on Fools Gold. The video for “Street Jizz” has racked up 10,000 views. One down, nine to go.

“It [making videos] allows me to work with a great group of weirdos and makes Kansas City into this subversive, queer utopia,” he says.

“This thread could bulge into a cyst,” Miller adds.

That means he’s excited.

And Critcheloe hasn’t been this excited about music in a long time. Miller just mixed an awesome, slowed-down version of Gold called Shopped and Crewed, and DJs Iggy Baby and Nomathmatics are tapped to remix tracks.

“I know this sounds cheesy, but Fools Gold is me coming to terms with the stuff I like and the person I am,” Critcheloe says.

Don’t worry, Cody. It’s OK to be pop.

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