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CFCF: Outside
Similar Artists: D’eon, Emeralds, The Orb
Genre: 80’s soft rock, new age, electro pop
Label: Paper Bag Records

If you’re asking me, I’d much rather see a great producer sticking to his guns and continuing to hone his individual craft rather than prove his versatility by releasing music that is somewhat risk taking, yet neither as original nor as satisfying as his earlier work. Not that CFCF’s releases haven’t all been varied in their own right; Continent saw him treating his lush instrumental soundscapes with an early IDM vibe, The River saw him taking on the slow paced cinematic cues from films, and best of all, last year’s Exercises saw him taking influence from Philip Glass and Ryuichi Sakamoto with the inclusion of minimalist piano figures and drifting ambience. Outside — his 2nd full length release — however, is a hard left turn, and one that see’s Mike Silver embracing pop stylings that are at least a few hairs short of modern.

It starts off pleasantly enough with “Beyond Light”, one of only a few instrumental tracks. Through a simple synth pattern that in turn becomes backed by multiple layers of drums, bass and woodwinds, CFCF reaches a state of perpetual chill-out bliss. The next track however, the stringent “Jump Off The Train”, introduces the album’s true obsession: good, old fashioned notes. If the first track had an early Oneohtrix Point Never vibe, this one feels more like the direction Emeralds were going in on Does It Look Like I’m Here. “Find” too, feels like it was taken directly out of the Mark McGuire handbook. Although these sounds are nothing new, I have no real complaints with the melodies or songwriting on this album.

What does eventually bring down these productions though, is how Mike Silver has ornamented them with his own unaffecting, and often flat voice. His voice is somewhat similar to Dan Snaith’s (of Caribou fame) — another great producer who has moved closer to pop’s infrastructure on recent releases — but the difference is that Dan Snaith uses his voice to extend the individuality of his compositions, while Silver is singing for the mere purpose of having vocals in his work at all. With this said, the vocals are tuned down in the mix, and rarely get in the way of the other, more enjoyable aspects of he music. The track where he really gets this mixture right — where his plan of hushed vocals and overlapping electronic rhythms finally comes into full view — is “The Forest at Night”. The thing is, it’s so similar to many of its surrounding tracks that it doesn’t stick out as much as it should have.

The true inspiration for Outside — which you would have been able to guess without any external research — is Peter Gabriel, whose exotic brand of stadium pop comes through in a big way on tracks like “Feeling, Holding” and “The Crossing”. It’s pretty much undeniably cheesy, and clearly didn’t come off in the cool retro vibe CFCF probably imagined. While Silver does, to an extent, play appropriate homage to Gabriel, he does little to extend his trademarked sound in any way; a few songs actually feel as though they could break into “In Your Eyes” at any moment. In fact, maybe he would have been better off just making this a covers record, as “Strange Form of Life”, originally a Bonnie “Prince” Billy song, is surprisingly one of the biggest highlights of the album.

I keep feeling like I’m being too harsh on this record, as Mike Silver is still showcasing his expert production techniques, just in ways that I find to be unflattering. But whether the sounds of Outside appeal to your personal tastes or not, there’s little denying that it’s not the timeless document its creator was working towards. He tried to go big and came out a tad bit sour, but that’s ok, because it means CFCF is one step closer to making his masterpiece.

Track Listing:
1.) Beyond Light*
2.) Jump Out of the Train*
3.) Strange Form Of Life*
4.) Find
5.) This Breath
6.) Feeling, Holding
7.) The Forest at Night*
8.) Transcend
9.) The Crossing
10.) Walking in the Dust

Album highlight – *