Album Review: Outfit – Performance

By on Tuesday, 6th August 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Outfit Performance coverWhen casual popular music listeners think about Liverpool and its surrounding Merseyside, there is only one band and only one group of names – John, Paul, George and Ringo – that matter. It is obvious from the larger than life black and white poster decorating the long, horizontal window out front of the HMV at Liverpool ONE that it’s guitar music is the prevailing legacy of music days gone past. So when a band like Outfit comes along to challenge that notion, music reviewers like us stand to attention and notice. The band have been pottering round under the radar since their formation in 2011, wowing our head photographer Martin at Constellations Festival that year, probably just when they’d just gotten around to making their first public splash. Two years later they are ready to release their long-awaited long player, entitled ‘Performance’, on Double Denim Records.

As we’ve seen far too many times in this post-iTunes world, the two singles that have been revealed from the album are strong contenders singularly, but they don’t give an accurate picture of what ‘Performance’ is all about. ‘I Want What’s Best’ mixes it up between dreamy pop with a disaffected vocal from lead singer Andrew Hunt in the verses and a funky, beat-heavy chorus. This is a song with an identity problem. You can’t call it a dance song, or really a dream pop song either. It lies uncomfortably between the worlds, possibly confusing both the Tom Vek / Friendly Fires fan who adores the chorus and the Beach House devotee fangirling over the stretched guitar notes sounding like a faraway bird calling. Interesting song, no doubt about it, it’s just not one I think I’d like to hear over again over again.

Newer single ‘House on Fire’ is currently making the rounds on 6music, as it’s firmly entrenched in this week’s B-playlist. It’s Egyptian / Middle Eastern in its note progressions (a theme explored again in the guitar pluckings in ‘Spraypaint’), and the accompanying vocals are suitably echoey for this purpose. The melody is repetitive, which to some might be welcome, but I find it grating. I can see it causing the masses to spin around like whirling dervishes at the remaining summer music festivals of this season, but is this sound still going to be fresh going into autumn? I doubt it. >According to the Guardian, the clicking sound you hear throughout is the sound of a DVD player’s tray opening and closing. I haven’t decided yet if including the sound in here is genius or ridiculous. They self-produced their album in an estate in Liverpool called The Lodge, so maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe it was a The Shining-type situation and they all went a little mad?

Speaking of their digs during the recording of this album, the press release says of it, “The estate owned by their previous landlord had a block of abandoned flats based in the mansion’s grounds. Previously used as a refuge for asylum seekers, they picked an old dining room in the 150 capacity building and created their studio.” This is all very interesting to note, as whether it is the minor keys employed on much of the album or if it’s genuinely the tone they were trying to evoke on this record, I detect a sense of desolation that runs through this entire album.

‘The Great Outdoors’, despite its synthesised beats that evoke the ‘80s more than it does our 21st century, has a measure of loneliness despite the loveliness. Title track ‘Performance’, which lacks enunciation (I accidentally thought the words were ‘For Four Walls’ when I queued this up on my mp3 player on a run and wasn’t looking at the song titles), has, to be sure, sweeping vocals, but it’s got the reverent vibe of a monastery. While there are mini-climaxes spread out in songs like ‘Phone Ghost’ and its industrial clanking and the aforementioned ‘Spraypaint’, there are no distinct “aha!” moments that stand out to stir the soul. After a while, if you’re not paying close attention, a lot of the songs start to sound samey and despite loads of exciting electronic gadgetry going on in the background, emotionally I don’t feel anything.

Thankfully, to break you out of the doldrums come Outfit’s seemingly happiest, poppiest moments. The first comes courtesy of ‘Thank God I’m Dreaming’. While it begins with a beautifully ambient intro, Hunt’s lead vocal sounds as wide-eyed as Alex Trimble’s in Two Door Cinema Club. This, along with album closer ‘Two Islands’, a glorified tropical pop number, save the album from bleakness.

Some have compared Outfit’s style to Hot Chip, but time will tell how far their dance floor fillers will take them. The real question is if people who buy this debut album from them will actually take to the songs that don’t sound like ‘I Want What’s Best’ and ‘House on Fire’, because this album has two faces.

5/10

‘Performance’, the debut album from Liverpool outfit Outfit, will be released on Monday (12 August) on Double Denim Records. Stream the album on Guardian Music here.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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