I was 8 when I first tried my luck on an arcade game. It was a really weird game called Joust and although I never was good at it, I remember having a lot of fun with it. Months later, I got hooked on Son Son, another weird game. This one was easier than Joust and, best of all, it had a fantastic, infectious soundtrack. On my holidays, I used to spend a lot of time with an older cousin in Tampico playing loads of videogames at arcades. His favourites were Ikari Warriors and Outrun, both excellent games with amazing soundtracks. Outrun in particular was interesting, as you could change the radio stations, so you had different music. Imagine that!
Holidays in Tampico also meant that we could watch lots of films in my aunt’s satellite dish, one that picked a cornucopia of channels. Being the 80s and being México, we didn’t get that many films on cinemas (due to protectionist policies, really) and some were forever delayed. A satellite dish meant you could watch some films that would take ages(if that) to arrive to México. One my fave films was Charlie Sheen‘s The Wraith, which basically is like High Plains Drifter meets The Crow, where the undead avenger is a mysterious figure with a helmet, not a mime from hell or a cowboy with a perma-scowl.
Videogames, supernatural films of the 80s. Is there a meeting point? Actually, yeah, there is one and it comes in the form of Kavinsky‘s OutRun, an album that came out last February and excited quite a few, irked others (misguided heretics!)
Like 60% of his new fanbase, I got introduced to Kavinsky thanks to the stylish Drive, a film that appealed both to fans of film noir and 80s electronic pop. The darker, atmospheric ‘Nightcall’ was a perfect intro track to the slightly Grand Theft Auto: Vice City feel of the film and a good contrast to the supersweet moods of College‘s ‘A Real Hero’. Everyone who played Grand Theft Auto IV had a head start on Kavinsky, though, but it was a game that I never got around to play. Oddly enough, I love the franchise.
Expectations for OutRun were high and possibly impossibly high for some people. I dunno, I think it was a pretty fantastic album. I’m probably biased because the story line in OutRun mixes everything I was gushing about the 80s a couple of paragraphs ago. Videogames, modern fantasy films set in the Neon Lights decade, crime, old school electronics, this is just a tailored suit of an album for me! The chilling ‘Prelude’ sets the scene, with an ominous monologue establishing Kavinsky‘s Varsity jacket-wearing avenger. ‘Blizzard’ is like an updated soundtrack of a Commodore 64 game (I’m thinking Loco – kudos if you know it), with the beat a track should have to keep your interest well piqued.
It doesn’t get more 80s than ‘ProtoVision’, a prime cut in this album. That guitar screams neon tube socks and Hang Ten t-shirts, those synths are tropical-themed Trapper Keepers and Garbage Pail Kids trading cards. It’s the real deal, a time-capsule opening and letting out the rosier-tinted colours of a place we can never go back to again.
‘Dead Cruiser’ feels like a last level track. You know the feeling: you’ve gone deep into the enemies’ base, you are fighting for your life, avoiding death traps, spikes and several boss characters now attacking in waves. ‘Testarossa Autodrive’? Endgame boss: tense, upbeat and ominous. The bridges and breaks will be the parts where you’ll gain the necessary confidence you’ll need to beat the game, if your only have one square of energy left and no quarters left in the pockets of your acid-washed jeans.
Now, it’s not all a massive pay-it-forward to the past. ‘Suburbia’ is a pretty good hip hop track, one that wouldn’t fit in the 80s but works wonders in the narrative flow of OutRun. Havoc’s vocal delivery is perfectly matched with the swelling notes from Kavinsky. Heck, even ‘Nightcall’ feels too modern in comparison to the sweet retro feel of the album, which probably goes with the storyline of our avenging hero dying in ’86 and coming back in ’06 to a world that both perplexes and entices him. ‘Roadless’ is a clear “credits” scene (including a FBI warning of Winners don’t use drugs!” and ‘Endless’ offers the ending coda (and perhaps opening ending for a sequel) of OutRun. Think of it as music for you to type your initials.
Jump a few months after and Kavinsky has now released an EP for ‘Odd Look’, a slow burning track that clocks the ominous notes several times while still having a tasty beat. It also sports an action packed video with moody lightning:
This new EP also has remixes by The Weeknd, A-Trak & Midnight Juggernauts and comes a few weeks after the free videogame themed after OutRun came out. The videogame, well, it’s an old school beat-em up, mixing elements of Double Dragon and Final Fight, with a bit of the visual flair from Vigilante. A nice detail is that you can change the camera angles to make it more retro. There’s a couple of driving sections and the game overall is easy but enjoyable. It’s a perfect visual companion for Outrun.
I have no idea what Kavinsky will do next. I don’t mind another serving of retro-electronic sounds because he’s got quite the knack to belt out some fantastic songs that will snare any chavorruco like me who loves old videogames, music and wears the 80s golden hue shades everyday. In the meantime, he’s proof positive that you can do highly emotional music with just electronics and in a world where many a cynic says that you need “real instruments” to make “real music” (pfffft!), this trove of releases should shut down a few misguided but well-meaning guitar-heads.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López
Unless where noted, all images are from Kavinsky‘s Facebook page.