Campfires and the cosmos feel like they share something fundamental at their core. Mysterious and elemental, they can conjure great loneliness and deep belonging; an eternal catharsis lying in the beauty of their steadfast indifference to the affairs of humans. One often burning in futile defiance beneath its colossal heavenly cousins, the two join hands as emblems of tranquility, and of mankind’s anchor-less wanderings in search for meaning. It’s a feeling that seems to be shared by Curtis Roush on his debut solo album Cosmic Campfire Music– capturing the essence of its title in its expansive intimacy.
Perhaps inspired by the vast skies and great plains of his home state – the cover art lending weight to such assertions – Austin-born Roush has delivered an album of wandering meditation. Like a vagabond in the wilderness, it’s unhurried and thoughtful and revels in its own isolated wayfaring. It perhaps the natural result of the album’s circumstances. Away from his Bright Light Social Hour bandmates for the first time, the songs were written and composed “in fleeting moments in motels, tour vans and his parent’s spare bedroom” as Roush recovered from the death of the band’s manager and the end of a relationship. He played every instrument and recorded it himself as these homeless songs came into being from his solitary efforts.
There’s a small but noticeable shift away from the sound of the Bright Light Social Hour. As a band, they were always capable of drifting listeners on a gentle journey to faraway places, but with Roush alone, there’s a solitude that seeps into the reverb. That classic, hazy psychedelia remains, but the writing is softer and more introspective. It’s not necessarily in the instrumentation or arrangement that it’s clear, there’s certainly momentum and energy to be found here. “Getaway” pulses along with the delicate urgency of its title before discharging into a timeless guitar solo while hints of the 70s Californian soft-rock of The Eagles dance amid Roush’s creations, never more apparent than in the leisurely “Polestar”. But there’s a tangible distance that calms the pulse rather than quickens it. The driving beat of “Real Love” glistens with guitars and a buoyant melody yet never leaps over the line into unbridled fun, ultimately a perfect lead in to closer “Space is Empty (Come With Me)”, a drifting track that takes you gently by the hand and leads you into emptiness of its title.
It’s a distance that runs throughout the record as a reflection of Roush’s mind when writing. He ruminates over love, space and time and whether there is enough room for all of them in our comprehension of everything. A deep longing to find meaning informs his writing, and within that the desire to escape. ‘Getaway’ finds him repeating “Run out and start again,” before begging “won’t you please see it all, enough to come away with me” on ‘Won’t You Please’. His search seems centered around the fickleness of love within and despite our fascination and reliance on it. “Real Love” feels far more like a question than an answer of any kind, while he rounds off his thoughts on the closing track with his echoing epilogue “off to settle space, come with me; cold and dark without your love, it’s empty”.
It’s a window into a mind that feels satisfied with following questions whose trails lead nowhere in particular. In a moment of darkness, Curtis Roush has sought the comfort of campfires and the cosmos and its corresponding introspection. In doing so he’s created a beautiful album that’s at once warm and numbing, distant and intimate. Cosmic Campfire Music draws you into its quiet exploration, a timely reminder that pain does not always equate to anger or desolation, but sometimes thoughtful withdrawal. It reminds of a famous line buried in Tolkien’s classic fantasy The Lord of the Rings, not all who wander are lost.