London’s Nick Harriman and Alfie Granger-Howell have repeatedly demonstrated a frightening aptitude for mixing both behind the decks and in the studio. Their progressive work has earned them airtime with leading lights in the electronic underground, such as Maya Jane Coles (Radio 1 regular whose alter-ego NOCTURNAL SUNSHINE exhibits telling similarities). On only their second full-length record Outer, the duo venture into new and expansive territories.
Atmospheric opener ‘All We Ever Needed’ sends waves of reverb swelling and crashing over distant vocals that beckon us into the ironically-introspective world of Outer. Pleading lyrics clamour for attention over a driven bassline, before loops of “Touch me, just touch me…” and elongated string chords soulfully leave a lasting impression of emotion carefully woven into the fabric of the record.
Third up, ‘Runny Nose’ begins with a DJ proclaiming, unto his disciples, that “…as a very well-known philosopher said: ‘there’s like, mad music, there’s like, posh music, and there’s working class music which is a melodic bassline with a lot of crazy shit around it’”. The bassline promptly kicks in, and sampled vocals “Hold me in your arms” reiterate the feelings of absent affection that continue to break through the surface. The song stirs into something of a banger towards its latter stages with drum kicks reminiscent of JAMIE XX’s ‘Gosh’ contributing fabulously. ‘Trough’ gladly continues the pulsing tempo as more vocals drift in and out of focus in search of love, only with a more synth-heavy conclusion than its predecessor.
Then comes the crowning jewel of the record. The first of four co-written works, ‘Sort it out Sharon’ sees UK warhorse Wiley spit fire over the jagged bass-heavy rocks that populate Outer’s futuristic landscape- this isn’t just collaboration for collaboration’s sake (a criticism some levied against FLUME’s ‘Skin’). Wiley’s lyrics form a perfect microcosm of the world that DUSKY have created; simultaneously retrospective and forward-thinking, but “just in-case you ain’t ready for the hype, [he’s] got the bars that’ll make you feel edgy for the night”.
Further highlights include the wonderfully dubbed ‘Songs of Phase’. Harsh arpeggio synths accompany stark, alienating vocals which revisit feelings of introspection, until a brutal bassline takes over – sending the song trembling under its own weight. The tempo largely peters out from here, but the quality remains. The legendary Gary Numan features on ‘Swansea’, a nostalgic ballad which pairs well with 80’s-electropop-style ‘Ingrid is a hybrid’ with the latter’s catchy hooks and rolling synths bearing connotations of LA ROUX’s latest album Trouble in Paradise. Sitting in between the two, beatless ‘Marble’ is a pretty song, but one which joins ‘Tiers’ as feeling surplus to requirement. Nevertheless, if this record is enjoyed as it deserves, in its entirety, then these tracks are perfectly tolerable.
‘Spruce’ draws the curtains in stunning fashion, with PEDESTRIAN lending his significant talent to a fragile, almost ethereal tune, helped along by carefully-considered percussive beats. The vocals here are at their most delicate, leaving us to ruminate the true meanings behind Outer. This really is a piece that succeeds in bringing together different elements to form something even more beautiful than the considerable sum of its parts.
By Wilfred Howard