Outfit – 'Performance'
Look out, Hot Chip: a band from Liverpool are dangerously close to usurping your claim as the kings of UK synth-pop. Outfit burst out of the Liverpudlian music scene in 2011 and moved down to London, already trailing hype. Nearly two years later, they've made a smart, soulful and dancefloor-ready debut album which justifies most of the praise that's been heaped on them.
In fact, 'Performance' is easily good enough to vindicate a risky decision: the exclusion from its track list of any songs from last year's sublime 'Another Night's Dreams Reach Earth Again' EP. Nevertheless, if you've heard that release's lead track, 'Everything All The Time', you'll know roughly what to expect on 'Performance': top-quality electronic pop which, like all the best dance music, balances deep funk with deeper emotion. There's plenty here to keep a crowd moving, including 'I Want What's Best', 'House on Fire' and the itchy 'Thank God I Was Dreaming'.
Three quirky, groovy, four-to-the-floor bangers on one album is a good strike rate, but there's more to 'Performance' than that. Two songs provide a sparser, slower interval halfway through the album: 'Performance', with its offbeat percussion, eerie vocal harmonies and strangled synth lines wouldn't sound out of place on a mid-’80s Depeche Mode album, while 'Spraypaint' has a slow funk kick and a serene synth outro which recalls OMD or even China Crisis. 'The Great Outdoors' takes even more daring steps into the untrendy deep end of synth-pop: it's as big as you'd expect from the title, with the kind of big bassy synth hits and heart-stopping chord changes that Simple Minds used to excel at. The lyrical chicanes on 'Nothing Big' are a little bit Pet Shop Boys, and 'Elephant Days' has some trembling psychedelic guitar on it, as well as a motorik middle section which sounds like it'd be phenomenal live.
'Performance' has a lot going on, then, and it's executed marvellously. This is a carefully calibrated and impeccably informed blend of funky electro, straight dance music and more experimental moments – the roaring, whirring synths, for example, which hover over closing track 'Two Islands'. There's only the odd passage when Outfit get really, transcendentally brilliant, but they've made as solid an album of forward-thinking pop as you'll hear this year. If they can keep this up, then it's only a matter of time before they're one of the country's most important bands.
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