Outfit’s debut album is near-cripplingly self conscious. Opener ‘Nothing Big’ sounds lost, calling out ‘can anybody hear us?’. It reaches out for an audience, a source of reassurance. Writing the majority of the record outside of home city Liverpool, London loomed over the band like a shadowed giant, lending a sense of dislocation and impermanence. It’s the sort of situation that could land the group in a crisis of confidence.
But these initial, nagging doubts are cancelled out. Changing cities brought Outfit aside from their comfort zone, all for the better. ‘Nothing Big’ might sound like a call for help lyrically, but musically it’s an assured beast. Exactitude reigns over. Opening statements rarely come as heavily thought-out as this. Every millisecond sounds like the product of obsessive after-hours work, one finishing touch replacing another.
If anything, that could lead ‘Performance’ down a similarly dogged path of sounding overdone and forced. Somehow, a human quality persists. It arrives through those opening, self-doubting declarations, in ‘Two Islands” direct cry of ‘I don’t know anyone else in here’, in ‘Thank God I Was Dreaming”s dreamy state, where it ponders what would happen if an entire city collapsed into shreds. It’s these honest, diary-like proclamations that turn a robotic record into something tangible.
At its best, ‘Performance’ is a wild, swaggering giant. Its title track is confidence runs riot, eerie musicianship overseeing showoff time structures. Vocalist Andrew Hunt does his very best Alexis Taylor impression in the sin-spliced ‘House on Fire’, placing biting electronics next to giant, crystallised guitars. ‘Spraypaint’ is the standard-bearer. A guilt-ridden calling card that recounts ‘washing my hands’ of ungodly deeds, it’s a deathly shade of dark.
Always aware of its character it might be, but ‘Performance’ puts on one hell of a show from start to finish. Towing a risk-ridden route, Outfit don’t play an easy game. Their precision could be alienating, coming off like the kid in school with all the yoyo-tricks who everyone pretended to like but secretly loathed. Ability isn’t the be-all-and-end-all, and the band are thankfully aware of this. Outfit are instead more intent on being direct, wielding hard-hitting songwriting through the most oddball means available. As a result, we’re left with one of the year’s stand-out debuts.
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