Outrun, by Kavinsky
Suggested by Stuart Taylor
Nostalgia is big business.
While this project is opening up new pathways for my musical tastes to wander, it’s no surprise that I’m also responding to sounds that play to my nostalgic frame of mind. Nostalgia is comforting, after all. The entertainment industry knows full well that there’s power (and plunder) in the evocative. Movies remakes and re-imaginings of established and much-loved franchises are everywhere, and new shows like Stranger Things do their best to channel these mystical waves.
My personal outlets for nostalgia are threefold. Two revolve around a pair of my nerd collections, the first being my complete run of 2000ad comics from #1 in 1977 to the present day, and my almost-complete collection of green-spined Fighting Fantasy gamebooks from the mid-Eighties. Both are things I enjoyed in my teens, and both spark intense joy. The third outlet is Nostalgic Bookshelf / Sweet Valley Online, a website project I share with my wife and a friend, on which the three of us snark on my wife’s favourite Young Adult Fiction series from her childhood (Sweet Valley Twins) in both print and podcast form.
Kavinsky, the French electropop musician and DJ, has a deep vein of nostalgia running through Outrun. His particular weapon of choice is nostalgia for Eighties movies, the formative entertainment he watched as a child. It also oozes love for video games and cop shows of the same era. Definitely my kind of pastry.
Outrun, I’m sorry to say, is a Concept Album, but thankfully upon my listen it is clear that the Concept is with a lower-case c, and it doesn’t overload us with narrative or intrude on our enjoyment. Named after Sega’s seminal 1986 arcade driving game, which featured a Ferrari Testarossa, the story follows Kavinsky’s own fictional backstory, concerning a young man who crashed his Testarossa back in 1986, only to reappear in 2006 as a zombie with a flair for electronic music. They say write what you know, but this is stretching it.
The album starts, and continues and concludes, with a heavy synthwave sound that is so evocative of Eighties media that I can almost see the neon and touch the chrome. I swear that, while listening, the remains of my hair reformed into a flat top entirely independent to my wishes. I believe it initially attempted a mullet, but was stymied by the lack of material with which it could work.
The opening and closing tracks contain narration that frame the story, delivered in a heddy and bombastic style. This perfectly sets the scene, in a menacing and almost sinister fashion. Kavinsky hits on a slew of cornerstones from the period, rocking the overblown guitars against a glossy synth sound that’s never less than perfectly pitched. As for individual tracks, there’s the downplayed and sultry Nightcall, the swaggering Blizzard, and, my personal favourite, the exultant and overblown First Blood.
You could call Outrun dated, but that’d entirely miss the points. Exactly where Kavinsky sits in the electronica pecking order remains to be seen, but this 8/10 offering hits all my buttons and will see repeat play in the Stevenson household once my musical calendar is less cluttered.