Kavinsky’s OutRun: reimagining the 80s via synthwave

Monday, August 06, 2018, 2:27 PM EDT

french-house kavinsky synthwave

  • Name: OutRun
  • Artist: Kavinsky
  • Year: 2013
  • Label: Record Makers
  • Genre: Synthwave, French house
  • Length: 44:26

Album Review: OutRun by Kavinsky

OutRun was the first album that really got me into synthwave, which is this niche genre inside electronica devoted to capturing the aesthetics of 80s film and video game soundtracks in modern-day music; Kavinsky’s music captures that retro-futuristic spirit perfectly. The album’s sound is lush, dark, and brilliantly synthetic; rapid, synthesized arpeggios blend with rich, synthesized organ basslines and retro, synthesized drumlines.

Stylistically, this album encompasses some interesting variations. Some tracks are very straightforwardly synthwave, either entirely instrumental, or with minimal vocals. Other songs are much more genre-oriented: “Suburbia” is a synthwave/rap song featuring Havoc, one half of the esteemed rap duo Mobb, Deep, while “First Blood” is highly reminiscent of progressive rock, with flightly, powerful electric guitar solos in the midst of an otherwise smooth track. “ProtoVision,” while entirely instrumental, has a similar electric guitar feel to it. The album’s more traditional synthwave tracks include “Grand Canyon,” “Roadgame,” and “Testarossa Autodrive.”

The two main highlights of this album, for me, are “Odd Look” and “Nightcall.” “Odd Look,” one of the nine tracks on OutRun to be co-produced or co-written by French house legend SebastiAn, is remarkable not only for its hauntingly vocoded lyrics and nonstop broken chords but also its excellent remix by The Weeknd; his smooth, high, almost R&B-style voice works surprisingly well with Kavinsky’s more subtle electronic sound as a backing track. “Nightcall” also makes exceptional use of the vocoder; it alternates slow, robotic vocals (“I’m giving you a night call to tell you how I feel / I want to drive you through the night, down the hills”) with much brighter, poppier additional vocals provided by Brazilian indie rocker Lovefoxxx (“There’s something inside you / It’s hard to explain”). It’s interesting that the most brilliant track on a fast-paced album like this would be the most slow and moody, but perhaps the contributions of Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (who shares production credit) are to blame. After all, Daft Punk was one of the first groups to perfect and popularize intense vocoding effects in electronica, as well as having more rich, moody tracks in general; some tracks on their 2001 album, Discovery, like “Veridis Quo” and “Nightvision,” share many musical attributes with Kavinsky’s work (the layered, repetitive, fully electronic sound over a drumline, with a lot of smooth arpeggios). Also, “Nightcall” was used as the title music for the acclaimed Ryan Gosling noir getaway-driver flick “Drive,” which I highly recommend — it’s another homage to the tradition of much of the 80s cinema that Kavinsky was trying to capture in this album.

Kavinsky also seems to be interested in the aesthetic of cars and driving, especially at night. Many of the tracks from OutRun, as well as from Kavinsky’s earlier albums, are named in reference to cars, roads, and the night. More concretely, OutRun is based around this kind-of-weird mythology, centering around Kavinsky crashing his car at night and fusing into it: “In a flash all was lost in the hellfire of twisted metal / When our hero emerged from the burning wreckage / He and the car had become one, their souls spliced forever / Leaving him to wonder the night alone” (in the operatic “Prelude”). I don’t know, but it’s great. Thus, it should be no surprise that the retro sound of this album is perfect for driving at night or for programming. Give this fantastic album a listen to start getting into synthwave!

Listen to OutRun

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