Kavinsky releases ‘Outrun,’ sets a new electro standard
If French electro enigma Kavinsky’s bombastic backstory is to be believed, then fans should probably keep their distance. After all, a reincarnated zombie in an Italian sports car may be more interested in eating brains than expanding them. But if the eccentric producer’s first artist album Outrun is any indication, his steady stream of exceptional output is going to make staying away a near impossibility.
Since bursting into the collective consciousness with “Nightcall,” the brooding single produced by Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and featured in 2011 blockbuster Drive‘s opening scene, Kavinsky (AKA Vincent Belorgey) has built both his musical resume and alternate undead persona with gusto. The culmination of these efforts, Kavinsky’s inaugural album is a 13-track odyssey that showcases the versatility and virtuosity of his menacing brand of electro-disco. Featuring the production talents of fellow French luminary SebastiAn, this sprawling LP represents a singular bar-setting achievement in a genre that has been too-often diluted in the post-Daft Punk dance music paradigm.
Kavinsky – Prelude
“The year was 1986. He was a teenager like any other, dreaming of his heroes and in love with a girl. But on a thunderous night along a ragged coast, a mysterious car came down, its power lighting his eyes blood red. In a flash, all was lost in a 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 wander the night alone, invisible to everyone… but her.”
Before donning his current role as a red-eyed Resident Evil antagonist, Belorgey worked as an actor for numerous years. It’s only fitting that the curtains should lift to a theatrical narration of Kavinsky’s comic-book backstory over a lilting arpeggiator, phased electro synths and choral rises.
Kavinsky – Blizzard
The album kicks off to a chugging track that recalls Daft Punk’s “Crescendolls” with strummed guitar and driving spoken samples situated deep within the mix. With unimpeachable rhythms and stellar synthesizer work, this track does an excellent job of setting the tone to come.
Kavinsky – Protovision
This dark downtempo masterpiece had already been released as a single with a requisite remix package featuring the likes of Boys Noize, Turzi Crack, Blood Orange, and Mumbai Science. However, the original is unmatched in my book. Its hard-hitting electro chords and squealing guitar licks simply could not sound heavier.
Kavinsky – Odd Look
Modulated analog synthesizers hang heavy above a dynamic melodic progression that accompanies this track’s refreshingly real female vocals. In the Auto-Tune era, hearing a vocal line that recalls chain-smoking waitresses and scratching vinyl is a precious rarity. It lends an undeniably foreboding aspect to this structurally solid track.
Kavinsky – Rampage
This aptly named track could easily have been conceived as the score to a war movie. Distant synths compete for attention against a layered sonic backdrop while the unyielding beat marches on. It’s difficult to believe this track clock manages to clock in under three minutes, given the shifting dynamics and tensions it manages to create and resolve.
Kavinsky – Suburbia
After flexing his theatrical muscles on “Rampage,” Kavinsky demonstrates his stylistic range with the hip-hop influenced “Suburbia.” As the featured rapper repeats “I come to life,” a patient beat introduces perhaps the album’s most accessible track. While its lyrics are suitably clever, it does seem a strange inclusion on an album that had heretofore been characterized by its cinematic synth-scapes. No complaints regarding its quality, but this one may have been better suited as a single.
Kavinsky – Testarossa Autodrive
The first track I ever heard by Kavinsky continues to be his most immediately visceral. While its frenetic electro lead simply never gets old, it is once again the French producer’s judicious use of complementary synthesizers that elevate “Testarossa Autodrive” from the crowd of disposable bangers into the realm of the epic. His nuanced understanding for the interplay between melody and harmony is starkly apparent.
Kavinsky – Nightcall
What is there left to say about this one? No other track more perfectly or concisely encapsulates Kavinsky’s musical appeal. Even after countless listens, the pace remains deliciously deliberate. When I saw Daft Punk on their Alive 2007 tour, the icons opened with dueling downtempo samples of “Human” and “Robot” that sent all in attendance into immediate conniptions. I hadn’t heard a vocoded vocal line that could compare until half of that robotic duo helped bring us “Nightcall” three years later. On an album that features complex arrangements and countless layers of ear-bending elements, it says something that Kavinsky’s best track is his most minimal.
Kavinsky – Deadcruiser
There’s just no topping “Nightcall,” and fortunately Kavinsky realized this as well. “Deadcruiser” is one of Outrun’s most low-key tracks, which says more about the overall intensity of the album than the track itself. Throwback synths dominate a track that could only be deemed forgettable in Kavinsky’s star-studded repertoire.
Kavinsky – Grand Canyon
Titling a song “Grand Canyon” requires significant chutzpah, so it’s a good thing Kavinsky isn’t shy about his surplus in that department. From the outset, this track’s uplifting lead propels the listener on a figurative desert adventure. Kavinsky’s standout synthesizer work recalls analog all-stars like Vangelis, leaving dance music’s galaxy far behind as it soars toward the upper echelons of the electronic music universe.
Kavinsky – First Blood
“Let’s go.” Video game laser synths give way to anthemic vocals that sound transplanted from a Judas Priest album. The thing is… it works. Only in Kavinsky’s strange leather-clad world could noodling guitar solos and acid house chords unfathomably coexist to the degree they do on this hybrid electro-metal oddity.
Kavinsky – Roadgame
A fitting finale before the album’s “Endless” outro, “Roadgame” is an ascendant assortment of pleasant synth melodies that builds to a silver-screen climax. The track serves the same purpose as “Epos” on Zedd’s Clarity. Preeminent producers simply like to show off a little.
Kavinsky – Endless
“They say the flap of a butterfly’s wing can doom your fate, that the road sometimes takes back what it had given. True love never dies and now you know the legend of how the deadcruiser was born. But what you don’t know is there’s a gap between living and dying. Some say they’ve seen the deadcruiser in a flash of lightning or on the shadowy curves of that highway. Some say he’s just a kid who met his fate in a fiery crash. But anyone fool enough to venture out on that treacherous road should know one thing, there’s no turning back.”
While the grandiloquent voice-over is unabashedly over-the-top, it has one thing right. There is truly no turning back after releasing an album of this magnitude. It has been ages since I’ve heard an album this anticipated still succeed in demolishing my expectations.
If the rumors end in ruin and Daft Punk never reunites, we’ll all be ok. We have Kavinsky.