UNLOCKED: Not-so-casual business: Rising beatmakers CSLSX talk history and new record Ritualize with Lushlife

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The band, with Lushlife (Photo by Ebru Yildiz)
The band, with Lushlife (Photo by Ebru Yildiz)

In some ways, the business of CSLSX (that’s “casual sex”)—started just as you’d expect it: casually. “We were all living at Broad and Tasker, and we had a room set up with all these instruments,” says producer/guitarist/vocalist Andrew Alburn, from a high-top table at Vincenzo’s Deli in South Philadelphia. “So people would come over and mess around. Originally CSLSX had no defined members; it was meant to represent music curated by the collective.”

The name CSLSX embodies both the band’s fluidity and its sound—sultry, indulgent lo-fi that sounds best late at night, when everyone’s drunk and making eyes at each other. When the band first broke out, with “Futuretapes,” in 2010 (which debuted on Pitchfork’s “Forkcast”) —they offered few clues as to their identity; as a result, the internet dubbed them “mysterious” and “enigmatic.” Isn’t casual sex best when it’s anonymous?

These days however, CSLSX is opening up. The band—Alburn, his brother Chad, and longtime friend and collaborator Jesse Davis—have been playing together in various incarnations for 11 years, and as CSLSX for about 6 years. Later this month, they will release their first full-length record, Ritualize, a collaboration with Philly rapper Lushlife (aka Raj Haldar). The record is 3 years in the making, and features raps by Haldar, production by the band, and a slew of special guests, including Killer Mike, Ariel Pink, I Break Horses, Freeway, and more (if you’ve been following The Key this week, you may have noticed we’ve been covering it every day).

But perhaps we should start at the beginning.

I first met Andrew Alburn my freshman year of college, when his band, Albert React (also featuring Davis) played a show at University City spot Pilam. It was 2004; I had knock-off Chuck Taylors and a stack of Saves the Day CDs; and Albert React, with their moody, screamo sound, seemed perfectly on-point. Later in 2007, the Alburn brothers teamed up to release one record as The Shootist—a Thom Yorke-y side project that came out right before In Rainbows. CSLSX’s tunes first dropped in 2010—right at the start of a chillwave surge that would take the indie scene by storm. For as long as I’ve been listening to them, the guys of CSLSX have had their finger on the pulse.

So it makes sense that CSLSX in 2016 would epitomize an increasingly fragmented and digitized musical world, making and sharing beats electronically, and crossing genre divides. For the past few years, the three members of CSLSX have lived in different cities—Andrew in Brooklyn, Chad in West Chester, PA, and Davis in Philadelphia—and have created and shared ideas electronically. “It helps to have our own headspace,” says Andrew.

The band first got involved with Lushlife when he sent them an email, and they were intrigued with the concept of marrying their beats with a rapper.

“He [Lushlife] had heard our music online,” says Chad—“and he wanted to play a show with us. We didn’t have a good live set-up then, but we liked his music a lot.”

“I had been a fan of the band peripherally for a few years,” confirms Haldar, a few days later. “In 2011 I rented a vacation home in the Poconos for a few friends… and I had this playlist I had made for the trip, with all four CSLSX tracks that had leaked on Pitchfork. And they were just these amazing, beautiful, lo-fi dance/house gems.” He pauses. “I still love those songs.”

Initially, Haldar reached out when he realized the band was from Philly. “I sent them an email that said ‘Hey, I love your music, and I’m playing a show, do you want to open?’” he continues. “And they said, ‘well, we’re not playing shows right now, but why don’t you listen to these tracks that are not right for CSLSX but could be good with a rapper?’” He continues. “They sent me two tracks, I think, and I really liked one. And immediately I was like ‘Holy shit, I need to work with these dudes.’”

Initially, the foursome intended to team up for an EP—but after beginning their work quickly realized they had struck on something special. And so, over the next 3 years, they began painstakingly constructing what would become Ritualize—emailing pieces of songs back and forth, and occasionally holing up together to work on the record.

The band describes myriad influences and inspirations during this time, from Blade Runner (“We were really into Blade Runner,” says Andrew) to Miami Vice, to neo-noir cinema and intangible ideas and lyrics that “just start spilling out and feel right.” “Within a split second of hearing a track I can tell if it is going to work,” says Haldar. “The trouble with these dudes is they send me four or five tracks at a time and I want to work on all of them.”

The musical guests came together with time—the band had a previous relationship with I Break Horses, who they collaborated with for 2012’s “Violent Sea”—and Andrew hooked up with Killer Mike after meeting him at a CMJ showcase 3 years back (“he is one of the friendliest artists I’ve ever met,” he says. “I literally just approached him with this idea and he was so receptive.”) Ava Luna’s back-up vocals (on the title track) were recorded from Andrew’s apartment in Brooklyn, and the string players (who appear on several tracks) came together at Spice House Sound in Fishtown.

Other artists, such as Freeway and Ariel Pink, had collaborated with Haldar—the group struck on involving Pink after starting to compose “Hong Kong (Lady of Love)” and realizing he would be perfect. “I had sampled some of his stuff in the past, but never met him in person,” says Haldar, of Pink. “Then within 10 minutes of meeting him, I [had to explain the song concept to him]. I was like, ‘imagine you’re a 35-year-old Japanese woman, who had this teenage life as a shabooya girl, where she was dressed flamboyantly—and now works in an office. I want you to write from this perspective.’ It was such an odd concept, [but he was] so incredibly responsive.”

All in all, it was a Herculean process—but everyone is psyched with the result.

“We put so much muscle into this record,” says Andrew—“all of our blood, sweat, and tears for 3 years. We’re excited to see where it goes.”

The band will celebrate Ritualize’s release with a show February 27 at Johnny Brenda’s. CSLSX will play most of the instruments live, with the help of drummer Jeremy Sampson, and will contribute all the vocals—sans Lushlife’s raps of course. “Live it feels more dynamic than the recording,” Andrew continues. “It’s amplified, and louder.”

Up next, CSLSX plan to focus on their own recordings—although they’re not opposed to future collaborations, should they arise. “We love collaborating,” says Davis grinning.

So what was Haldar’s favorite thing about working with CSLSX?

“It’s funny—when we started out [working on the record], we didn’t really know each other, but we became fast friends, which is super cool,” he says. “When you work for 3 years on a record with three other dudes you really become bros for life.”

He continues. “We’ve gone through a lot of tough moments, and turmoil of not seeing eye-to-eye on stuff… but my single favorite memories are times when we’d have recording weekends in New York and we’d be holed up in the studio for 4 days at a time, and we’d get incredibly giddy and happy and have inside jokes and stuff… waking up hungover, drinking last night’s beer in the morning. Those are moments I wouldn’t give up for anything.”

Lushlife and CSLSX will celebrate Ritualize with a show February 27 at Johnny Brenda’s. The 21+ show begins at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10–12; more information can be found on XPN’s Concert Calendar.

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