CFCF’s Outside is Canadian Michael Silver’s second album, following his 2010 debut Continent, of considered electronica or ‘new age deep thoughts’. He has been noodling about remixing the likes of Crystal Castles, Holy Ghost! and Health to give an indication of where his head is at. His string of EPs also lend weight to his ability to create new and innovative sounds in the already over-populated world of solo electronic boffins trapped in their own circuitry dithers.
The instrumental opener sets the tone of the record, which feels like a piece to be taken in its entirety rather than dipped in and out of. Hypnotic keyboards give way to the boom of militaristic drums reminiscent of early New Order b-sides in their stately charm and occasional menace of impending magisterial doom. Initially the effect is of Balearic warmth oozing out of the cold hard synth keys, recalling ’80s new Romantics China Crisis or even Tears For Fears with the harmonising vocals and shuffling almost acoustic groove on The Crossing.
The laid back pace lets warm synth washes build while guitars (yes, the six-stringed monster!) stretch and elongate notes similar to Steve Hillage’s work with prog-trancers System 7, or even the elliptical repetition of Steve Reich. But this is no mere exercise in referential horizontal zoning music; there beats a slow, but undoubtedly human heart within Outside. It is true that occasionally the vocals can seem rather insipid, even a little angsty and lacking in any emotional clout. But when the musical background can occasionally transport and delight, this is mere quibbling.
Inspired by Silver’s own travelling, Outside bears all the hallmarks of the neon-flecked nightscapes of endless highways to conjure with the spirit of similar transitory documenters Kraftwerk. But in CFCF’s roadmap there are echoes of ’80s soundtracks to defunct TV shows lingering strong, as on The Breath. With its pastel washes it could easily soundtrack Miami Vice’s over-dressed cops cruising in an open-top cruiser or swanning around in deep reflection aboard a speedboat.
The whispered ‘talked’ vocals on closer Walking In The Dust make a welcome change from the hushed harmonies of the other vocal tracks, but it brings what could have been a personally cinematic album based on travels (inner and outer) to a somewhat inconclusive finale. Maybe the album is a transitional piece before Silver gets back to making more focused EPs, or injects some much-needed adrenalin into the seeds of something good to make it truly great.
While Silver’s debut Continent took on board ’80s synth influences too, it had some variety and percussive elements that drove the tracks away from pastiche into personality. Unfortunately here the emphasis is on mood and maintaining it over the course of an album without any real peaks and troughs, making for an ultimately pedestrian pace throughout. The languid waves sound like someone playing with no recourse to editing or reflection.
Outside is no bad album, being as it is an immersive audio bubblebath of post-euphoric comedown music. But sometimes this clinical feel doesn’t allow it to be fully embracing or fully engrossing. Transcend’s ethereal quality of looped falling chords and bank of vocal wash recalls Brian Eno’s work on his Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks album, and is pleasantly at odds with the rest of the album’s resolutely ’80s sway.
Unfortunately, without much to grasp onto in terms of tunes, hooks or discernible lyrics CFCF can slink away into the territory of background music, albeit prettily and inoffensively. You’d be happy to be stuck in a lift with this on, but not for too long.