April 04, 2005

Outhud "Let Us Never Speak Of It Again"

This is the last album I need to be listening to right now --- not because it isn’t any good (it’s brilliant), but because I’m just not in the right environment to appreciate it. As I type this, I have $15 to last me from now until I get paid next Friday, which means that I am too broke to do anything but sit in this apartment and write record reviews. With their sophomore album Let Us Never Speak of It Again, NYC quintet Outhud have set a standard for “indie-house,” “dance-punk” or whatever you want to call it so high that I can’t listen to it without wishing I was at some house party in Williamsburg. I imagine myself tipsily grinding against someone I barely know while the bass frequencies hit me in the chest and a bunch of bright blinking lights blind me into submission. Unfortunately, I’m listening to this album by myself on a pair of cheap computer speakers in a one-bedroom apartment in Austin.

Outhud’s debut album, 2002’s Street Dad, would have been a slightly more appropriate soundtrack to solitude and reflection. You could dance to it, of course, but the lack of vocals and the emphasis on live instrumentation (especially on Molly Schinct’s sonorous cello) made for an aesthetic that was a bit closer to the funkier moments of Tortoise’s Standards than it was to the funk frenzy of Outhud’s doppelganger Chik Chik Chik (!!!). This time around, though, the band almost completely bypasses the mind and aims straight for the booty. The live drums are completely gone, replaced by volleys of equally kinetic and intricate programming that can sound like anything from Detroit house (“One Life to Live”) to a tribal drum circle (“The Song So Good They Named it Thrice”) to Aphex Twin-style drill-and-bass (“The Stoked American”).

Let Us Never Speak of It Again is definitely a more process-oriented record than its predecessor. Outhud member Justin Vandervolgen reportedly spent more than a year mixing and re-mixing the songs after the basic tracks and overdubs were recorded. Although the music is a bit too minimal to sound overcooked, Vandervolgen’s attention to detail is definitely palpable. All of the instruments are played staccato and render subservient to the groove. On “One Life to Leave,” the guitars are digitally chopped up and run backwards until they sound just as percussive as the drums. The normally choppy nature of the music makes the sporadic ambient moments stand out even more. Listen, for example, to the vortex of droning guitars, white noise and sirens on “The Song So Good They Named It Thrice,” or the swell of keyboards, flutes and celli that begins album highlight “How Long.” Moments like the aforementioned keep Outhud’s new music from sounding robotic or bloodless.

Then, of course, there are the vocals. More than half of the songs on Let Us Never Speak of It Again surprise us with singing from Outhud’s two female members, Schinct and drummer Phyllis Forbes (who probably would’ve spent most of the sessions for this album twiddling her thumbs anyway). They’re not exactly the most pitch-perfect singers on the planet (their vocals on the first half of “Old Nude” almost made me hit “eject” prematurely), but their breathy sighs and catchy choruses help the songs get stuck in your head long after the CD ends, which can’t be said for any of their previous work. My two favorite songs on the album have vocals. There’s “One Life to Leave,” in which Schinct and Forbes dismiss naïve people with distorted sneers: “There’s people like me, and then there’s people like you…you don’t see evil.” Then, there’s the awesome slap-bass groove of “How Long,” atop which the ladies lament the aftermath of a broken friendship. “How Long” will probably go on every mix CD I make for the next six months.

Over the last four years, we’ve been inundated with rock bands who think that a four-on-the-floor beat, a scratchy guitar and a “Disco Inferno” bass line are enough to turn their scenester pajama party into a “Fantastic Voyage.” Outhud, on the other hand, have moved far beyond misguided Public Image Limited worship. They’ve put their own sprightly spin on the music of the masters (Todd Terry, Arthur Russell, Giorgio Moroder) to make grooves of their own that could sit comfortably next to them in a DJ set without anyone on the dance floor having to do a double take. The Rapture? Moving Units? Let us never speak of them again. In 2005, Outhud rule the school.

That's it. I’m going out dancing next Friday and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

--Sean Padilla

Label Website: http://www.kranky.net
Artist Website: http://www.brainwashed.com/outhud

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