Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, get ready for your official introduction to the phenomenal Kavinsky…or, as you might know him, that dude with the other kick-ass song from “Drive.” Up until now, Kavinsky had a disappointing body of work. Before 2013, he’d only released a handful of singles and one incredibly short album in 2005, and none of the other songs were remotely as good as “Nightcall.” But fear not, for this month, Kavinsky has released his first studio album, Outrun, and oh boy, is it chock full of retro goodness.
Ok, let’s back up a second. For anyone unfamiliar with Kavinsky’s style, he’s a French DJ with a very particular love for the 80s. Probably the best comparison I can draw is with Daft Punk, specifically when they scored Tron Legacy. What worked so well was that they incorporated more old-school electronic instruments, such as the synthesizer and even the chiptune, to add a really cool retro style to their more pop-oriented techno. Kavinsky does something similar, but with an even greater emphasis on homages to old pop culture, occasionally incorporating samples from “Miami Vice” and “The Twilight Zone.”
To say that the entire album feels like the soundtrack to a badass 80s car chase movie would be a little redundant on my part, since it actually tries to establish this within the first song. The initial song, titled “Prelude,” consists of a voice over describing how a young man (presumably Kavinsky himself) is killed in a car accident, only to return as a vengeful undead racer, all of which is accompanied by an energized synthesizer score in the background. This motif is then carried throughout the album, both in track titles that sound like 80s B-movies (e.g. “Roadgame,” “First Blood,” and “Dead Cruiser”), and in many of the songs’ lyrics. The whole Kavinsky character is ultimately one of those small details that adds a lot to the whole album, and to the renegade retro-camp feel that the whole album exudes.
The album as a whole can essentially be divided into purely instrumental tracks and those that feature another artist’s vocals. In many ways, this distinction is pretty important, as these two types of songs give very different finishes to the album. Admittedly, the purely instrumental tracks are some of the most distinctive parts of the album. Songs such as “Roadgame,” “Rampage,” and “Grand Canyon” are the best examples of Kavinsky’s style, all incorporating a wide range of instrumental samples combined with his electronic style to make them feel like the score of some awesome 80s movie…and I mean really awesome, like if “Death Race” and “They Live” had a baby.
That said, the tracks with other artists’ vocals are also compelling, with the additional artists delivering an eclectic mix of styles somewhat reminiscent of Gorillaz. A slightly more soulful “Odd Look” and the hip-hop- driven “Suburbia” are standouts, but the best track is probably “First Blood,” which amps the retro up to 11 by adding a bit of old-fashioned glam rock to the mix. And of course, it has “Nightcall,” which you know you love.
If I had a car (and a license), Outrun is the album I’d blast when cruising down the freeway and feeling like a complete badass (granted, looking and feeling like a badass are two very different things). It’s a fantastic mix of styles, an excellent debut for Kavinsky, and a must for any fans of electronic music…or the 80s.