‘Those Were My Jams’ is one of those titles that suggested itself so forcefully I had to find a format to fit it. Given I’ve been looking for a way to briefly document the music I’ve been listening to, this seemed a perfect fit.
Roughly, it’s intended to be an umbrella for hopefully regular chunks of fairly brief music writing at the end of every month or two. My music discovery habits have shifted a little this year, as I’ve stopped using This is My Jam, and replaced it with the collaborative Spotify playlist I share with friends, and the recent discovery of Songdrop.
So what better way to share some of the best stuff that’s landed in my nets?
“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 red car came to him, its power lighting his eyes blood-red.
In a flash, all was lost in the 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.”
That’s how OutRun starts, with the aural equivalent of Star Wars‘ opening crawl. It sounds like the tagline for a bad ’80s action film, of the kind you’d find on Channel 5 at 1am, or on a tattered VHS in a charity shop. It’s equally stylish and ridiculous. It sets the scene perfectly.
OutRun is a record preoccupied with ’80s trash culture. Take the cover – essentially a poster for the movie pitched in that intro. You could easily pick up the CD thinking it’s a soundtrack, an impression that’s only strengthened by the dozen stills from the same imaginary film throughout the album sleeve, which tell the same story, with the same focus: a man, and his car.
It seems a bit too easy to label OutRun as ‘driving music’, not to mention how ickily Jeremy Clarksonish the phrase feels, but it’s certainly there in the album’s DNA. It’s no coincidence that Kavinsky came to most of our attention soundtracking the opening credits of Drive, a throaty voice intoning ‘I want to drive you through the night’ as Ryan Gosling did just that.
But that’s all just trappings. The music – simple, pounding electro-pop of the kind you want to play at a volume that makes things shake – is more than strong enough to speak for itself.
Rampage sounds like Daft Punk on a stakeout. Odd Look sounds like it’s being sung in a dark bar by the dame in a sci-fi film noir. ProtoVision sounds like a formula for metabolising every experience and feeling you’ve ever had and turning it into pure energy.
And Nightcall. From the moment you hear coin drops into the jukebox (or arcade machine, depending on your viewpoint), Nightcall still sounds like a slap around the face
There’s an unmistakable house style here, but Kavinsky manages to draw in all sorts of other references along the way. Tracks riff on the soundtracks of ’70s cop shows and exploitation movies, or drop in a rap. It runs the core sound through different filters, just in time to stop it getting boring. Deadcruiser is the feeling of the best bossfight never to appear in a Metal Slug game, condensed into 3 minutes 33 seconds.
Videogames are the other key reference point. The album is called OutRun, after all. It’s exactly the kind of music that makes me wish I was really into a racing game right now, just so I could use it as an ad hoc soundtrack.
That’s actually more or less how I’ve been using it in real life. The music practically demands movement. Not dancing – you feel Kavinsky’s only interest in dancing is as seen under a strobe light, a series of cool poses. This is music for something with more forward momentum. Walking or running or riding a bike at night or, ideally, driving a really fucking nice car.
That’s it, nearly – the itch that OutRun scratches so well. The single unique thing that it does, over and over, which I’ve spent all these words trying to pinpoint. What’s left when you boil down all its pop-culture trappings. Which is, roughly: the feeling of going in a single direction, very very fast.