Vinyl Review: Kavinsky – OutRun
I really wanted to dislike this record.
I’m typically not a fan of “kitsch” retro music, any music that goes out of its way to sound “retro” or “vintage.” Whether it be chiptune, faux-glam, pseudo-classic rock or throwback rap, I typically find it boring. It’s an obvious, quick and easy way to find an audience that’s not very discerning, one that puts a style of music over its general quality.
And OutRun, the full-length debut by electronic artist Kavinsky, is clearly aiming for a retro feel in just about every way imaginable. He named his album after a Sega arcade game, and filled the sleeve with imagery evocative of it. He relies almost entirely on 80s-style synth and guitar licks, and the album itself is a concept record that begins in the mid-80s. There’s wearing your influences on your sleeve and then there’s tattooing them on your arm. It just all came off as so obvious.
But dammit, this is a great record.
While other electronic artists going for an 80s sound always come off like they’re doing a piss take, not taking their influences nor their own music seriously, Kavinsky obviously has a deep love and admiration for the music he’s drawing inspiration from. There’s no wink, no goofy aside, no tongue-in-cheek feeling, it all comes off as legit. And that’s because Kavinsky isn’t trying to cop a specific artist or style. There aren’t any monotone Human League vocals here, or Animotion-type synth lines for example. No easy nostalgia targets.
Instead he’s going for a slow build, an overall “retro” feel that doesn’t draw from any one source. He’s grabbing it all. “Rampage” is a hodge-podge of 8-bit electronics, symphonic disco and Italian prog dread. “Odd Look” pulls from Blondie and Donna Summer with a smidge of late-80s industrial. The thrashing “First Blood” sounds like Sammy Haggar by way of a Sega game with a radical guitar solo straight out of “Danger Zone” thrown in for good measure. Its the greatest bits and hits of the 80s, all genres, all styles, all mixed together.
Naturally, if you’re the kind of person who would find that concept endearing, then you’re probably the kind of person who would want this album on vinyl. Thankfully, OutRun comes in a great package that really does its source material justice.
The front cover, itself evoking the imagery of the game the album is titled after, is a stunning work of art. The inside gatefold image is even better.
That, along with other imagery and iconography on the album, give it the look of a soundtrack to a movie that never was. The typeface is the kind you’d find on a soundtrack release, and the inside sleeve is filled with images that look like stills taken from a film. They’re all great touches.
The album sounds amazing as well. No pops or crackles. I never heard any distortion, sibilance or inner groove problems either. This thing was pressed perfectly. This is one that I’ll be dropping on my turntable frequently.
There is one problem though; there’s no download code included. That’s almost always an egregious oversight these days, but add in the fact that this record retails for about $30, and it really feels like a rip-off. It’s doubly insulting because this is the kind of record that was made to listen to while driving (no wonder that a track from it first appeared in the film Drive). If you have the means though, I would suggest recording a digital copy of the LP instead of downloading the MP3s (legally or otherwise), because holy shit is that thing compressed to hell and back. Check it.
One of the reasons why this album sounds so great is because of its dynamic range and contrast. On LP, it has a life, it’s allowed to breathe. The digital master is choked, cranked up to 11 at the cost of all life and feeling. If you’ve never heard the LP version, then the MP3s will probably sound good enough and you won’t notice the problem. But once you drop the needle on the record, you’ll never want to go back to the MP3 version again. It’s really a shame.
Hopefully Kavinsky will learn his lesson with his next album, because musically speaking the man is brilliant. If you only buy one electronic album by a French musician this year…buy Random Access Memories. But if you buy two, grab OutRun.