Album Reviews

Kavinsky – Outrun

(Mercury) UK release date: 25 February 2013

Kavinsky - Outrun If you’ve seen Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, you’ll be familiar with Kavinsky. A French house artist whose popularity skyrocketed after the success of Drive’s soundtrack, which sported Outrun highlight Nightcall, Kavinsky has finally made an album’s worth of material unapologetically inspired by ’80s video games, ’80s TV cop shows like Miami Vice, and, basically, ’80s everything. The album’s prelude stars with a narrator saying, “The year was 1986.”

The story of the album involves a man who crashes his Ferrari Testarossa, becomes a zombie, and starts making electronic music. (You’re not supposed to take it seriously.) On another level, much of Outrun was recorded and appears on Kavinsky’s prior EPs from as far back as 2006. As a result, the album also works as a compilation of Kavinsky’s almost decade-long obsession with the ’80s.

Outrun’s too-uniform aesthetic, namely its rigid synths, are not necessarily good for the dance floor like the music of fellow Frenchmen Daft Punk, Justice, or even SebastiAn, who produced this album. Instead, the album works as a headphones listen from start to finish, especially because the occasional wild card surfaces above the consistency of the synths. For instance, Havoc from Mobb Deep raps over Kavinsky’s beat on Suburbia. To criticize the rap’s laughable lack of originality seems akin to scrutinizing something like the Pokemon theme song – the rap is perfect for Outrun, an album which could easily be a soundtrack to a video game geared towards 12-year-olds.

Elsewhere, the fast-paced arpeggios of Testarossa Autodrive are as thrilling as some of the best sequences from Drive. Towards the end of the album, British singer Tyson wails over First Blood, and you wish it had come out in time to soundtrack Top Gun, its Van Halen-esque guitar solo warring with Kavinsky’s prodding synth beat. Clearly, it’s hard to listen to Outrun and not think about what other mediums its songs might soundtrack.

By the end of Outrun, Kavinsky’s aesthetic grows tiresome and you’re ready to move on to something different, yet you don’t feel like you’ve wasted time listening. Instead, you appreciate Kavinsky’s honest exploration of a musical style that fascinates him – and for that reason it is authentic. Recalling his compatriot M83‘s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming album, essentially what Outrun serves best is a 45 minute aural escape into a universe in which Michael J Fox and John Hughes are at the heights of American pop culture, a universe in which kids are playing Sega video games to distract themselves from the backwardness of the Reagan era. Even if you never come back to Outrun, you at least appreciate it as an of-the-moment idealized reflection of pop music history.

Despite what some of today’s most notable underground music trends might tell you, nostalgia doesn’t just come in the form of slow, reverb-laden dream pop or fast-paced, hazy garage rock. It can come in explicit electronic musical appropriation that triggers childlike memories dominated by small TV screens and other new-at-the-time gadgets. What better way to brighten up your day than through instantly gratifying reflection on American Ninja?

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Kavinsky – Outrun