Outrun Review: It’s Not 1986, But It Sounds So Close

Outrun, by Kavinsky – a producer of electronic music by the real name of Vincent Pierre Claude Belorgey – starts off with a very ominous story about a young man on a highway, facing down a car. The car and young man collide, creating a fusion of man and machine that is invisible to everyone, save for the man’s love.

That ominous piece of storytelling is backed by synthetic sounds that sound like they could have been culled from any science fiction or horror soundtrack from that 80’s era. The swoop of the right hand being underscored by a thunderous bass. Together, these two pieces form the gist of Kavinsky: a brooding, dark kind of storytelling fused with orchestral, 80’s-like flourishes that soar right out of the disk and sink into your mind.

What’s great about this record is how it wallows in the nostalgia that it is trying to create. If you listened to any mid-80’s soundtrack album, and you know that kind of music well, you will absolutely feel at home here. Belrogey takes his time, building on song structures that are – really – fairly bare-bones for the most part, but they’re great at evoking wonderful mental imagery: neon, fast cars, Thriller, those massive jackets, crazy haircuts. All of that comes across in the music. [a feat that’s really pretty difficult to perform, for the most part.]

It is somewhat updated for this century – the production quality is nowhere near as murky as a record from that era might have sounded in the wrong hands. There’s also nods to how music turned out in the mix: subtle cross-fades and drum placement that wasn’t in “common use” back then. But these little reminders – that this is music made in 2013 to sound like it was made in 1986 all work out well.

The level of storytelling at play here is also great. There are just enough songs-with-lyrics in them to give you an idea of what’s really happening behind the scenes [and most of these are spot-on.]

Highlights include the wonderfully strange lyrical styling of “Odd Look” and the completely haunting/harrowing “Night Call,” a neat fusion of the new and the old [the vocoder is most certainly not a production technique that was in heavy use back in the 80’s, except on a select few records here an there.] but here – and only here – is the album’s only failing. By and large, the music is a wonderful, nostalgia-laden trip, but the vocals don’t always work.

I’m not sure what prompted the collaboration with Havoc on “Suburbia” but it doesn’t work at all. The rap portions are decidedly new world. In 1986, most radio-friendly rap would have been very musical – tuneful, almost and while the music for the backing track isn’t terrible, it’s completely undermined by how 2013 the actual lyric and vocal style feels. There’s no sing-song rap here. It’s straight-up the kind of thing that – say – an Eminem might do if he got wind of the 80’s style music. Plus: Namedropping Twitter and Facebook? On a record that’s meant to sound like it’s from 1986? That’s a fast way to break the immersion you had going right there.

And that, really, is the only misfire. The rest of the album carries you along in fantastic “analogue” style right up until the closing monologue.

There are a couple of other interesting things I want to bring up, because, really, this is an album of instrumental music and I can only talk about the production for so long.

Kavinsky’s very married to his concept. So much so, in fact, that if you were listening to it, there’s definitely a Side A and Side B quality to the actual album if listened to in sequence. [He does actually sell a vinyl version of the album, but most probably won’t listen to it in that format.]

Following this vein, the album fits – quite comfortably – onto vinyl, given it’s run-time of a mere forty three minutes. It makes me wonder – a little – if there aren’t slightly longer versions of some of the songs – or edits that he might have made to get it to fit like that, but it’s in-keeping with the fantasy he has going here.  And that’s fantastic.

The front cover for Outrun features Kavinsky and the car that melded with him together against a palm-tree in the background, billowing fog and strange lights as a backdrop.  It's wonderfully 80's-horror.
So dark.
The back cover, in turn, is simple.  The name of the album and the name of the songs all set across a gradient of blue fading to black.  It has a very film-poster quality.
Looks almost like a movie-poster.

One final word on the packaging: It is absolutely beautiful and completely a throwback to some of the darker art of the 80’s. Everything about it feels like it could be a moody still from a movie of that era. It’s great to see an artist like this absolutely buying in – so completely – to the fiction of his record in this sort of way that it helps your immersion and the story-telling going in your head. There have been very few artists that grasp onto concepts like this and pull their audience along [like David Bowie did, for a time] that it’s refreshing to see a modern take on this idea.

Should you buy this? If you like concept albums, it’s worth a recommend. If you like throwback electronic music, then it’s certainly worth listening to. If you’ve been missing the eighties [or at least eighties-style music] then I can absolutely say you’ll enjoy this. Of course, if you happen to be someone who enjoys all three of these things, then you cannot go wrong. This album is worth buying and Kavinsky is absolutely an artist worth supporting.