For those who have quietly fallen in love with Outfit since 2011’s swirling dance-pop gem ‘Two Islands’ and last year’s showcase EP Another Night’s Dreams Reach Earth Again (ANDREA for short), the wait for debut album Performance has been nigh-on unbearable.
ANDREA’s four tracks were as schizophrenic as they were brilliant, fluttering breathlessly through a forest of spindly post-punk, warm disco and troubled electronica without touching down on any one branch for long. The EP gifted fans with the giddy proposition of having absolutely no idea what to expect next from the Liverpudlian five-piece – it proved the potential was there, and left us with a tantalising labyrinth of creative possibilities in place of a solid future path. “I wanna be everything, all the time, and I just can’t decide,” lead singer Andrew Hunt sang on the EP’s opener ‘Everything All The Time’, like a kid overwhelmed by the choice on offer at the sonic candy shop.
If ANDREA postponed any decision on a firm sound, Performance sees that decision emphatically made. In contrast to the band’s capricious EP, Outfit’s first full-length finds them shockingly settled, having finally alighted on a dark and dreamy electro-pop blend that mixes the jittery atmosphere of The Invisible and latter-day Radiohead with the anthemic melody-building of When Saints Go Machine and Breton. The album might not initially seem as relentlessly experimental as the group’s previous output, and you might occasionally find yourself yearning for an oddball wilfully chucked into the mix from leftfield, but the sheer density of pleasure on offer will pull those occasional regrets out of your brain-pan and dance them into oblivion.
Outfit’s more cohesive approach certainly hasn’t dulled the inventiveness of their songwriting – far from it. Performance’s weighty tracks unfold patiently, inviting rather than insisting. But whether it’s the mix of chanted chorus and ghostly six-string wails on ‘I Want What’s Best’ or the pulsating, emotive build-up on ‘The Great Outdoors’, the invitation is always too good to pass up. As before, Chris Hutchinson’s prominent basslines provide a strong connective tissue between the songs, nimbly stretching from a loping beast on panicked break-up anthem ‘House On Fire’ to a warm babble running through the gorgeous ‘Thank God I Was Dreaming’, as Hunt serenely intones: “Heaven claps, light refracts / Make a rainbow out of black / Don’t look back.” Album closer ‘Two Islands’, meanwhile, is as wonderful as it ever was, subtly enriched by its re-recording but built on the same tidal washes of synth and twinkling piano lines. Its gradual expansion into a great galloping avalanche of chiming guitars and howling feedback is a bliss-inducing and apt finale for an album that goes all-out to tweak the listener’s pleasure centre at every turn.
In fact, the more spins Performance gets, the clearer it becomes that Outfit are as experimental as they ever were on ANDREA. Only now, the songs are so rounded and so complete that every ingenious drum fill and tone-changing bridge section seems like the only possible move. The most impressive achievement of this record is its ability to take the unexpected and make it sound entirely natural. The result is an album that’s intricate enough for the die-hards to get lost in, but immediate enough to bend some ears on Xfm’s clogged airwaves. Whether or not Performance propels Outfit on to a larger stage, it deserves to be remembered as one of 2013’s best and most assured debut albums.