Outsiders EP by CFCF (Review)

For all of their engineering, programming, and whatnot, it’s to Silver’s credit that these songs never seem sterile or artificial.
Outsiders EP, CFCF

Ever since 2009’s Continent, there’s been a fundamental aspect to Mike Silver’s music: with each new release, his music — which he records under the CFCF moniker — has become progressively more refined, elegant, and mature. And with this year’s Outsiders EP, he’s reached a new level of sophistication.

The EP contains remixes by Mark Mcguire, John Roberts, and others of material from CFCF’s solid 2013 Outside full-length, and they’re uniformly excellent. For example, Mark Mcguire transforms the Steve Reich-ish “Jump out of the Train” into something a bit groovier and slinkier without sacrificing the original’s gracefulness, and North Americans distills “Strange Form of Life” down to Silver’s vocals, then warps, twists, and bends them amidst a swirl of noise into something resembling Chad Valley at his most stark and abstract.

However, the EP’s b-sides are truly where it’s at.

“Windswept” is, hands down, my favorite thing Silver has recorded to date, and one of my favorite songs of 2014 so far. It’s a lush, inviting song of quiet vocals, gamelan-esque percussion, fretless bass, and layers of cool, watery synths. Silver has clearly brushed up on his Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music, Talk Talk, and The Blue Nile, and like those artists, he knows that mood and atmosphere can be emotional and intoxicating. I almost don’t want to understand what he’s singing/sighing — Is that something about “my love is a waterfall” that I heard? — lest comprehension break the spell of the sweet nothings that I imagine he’s singing.

Outsiders concludes with “Being With You,” which begins with solemn, meditative piano and slowly, beautifully morphs over its six minutes as Silver blends in subtle melodic shifts, fluttering synths, electronic rhythms, and wordless vocals. Like “Windswept,” it’s an elegant, even nostalgic song of meticulous construction.

After releasing Outsiders, Silver contributed a track titled “Prisma” to the Driftless Ambient 1 compilation; here, Silver truly lets his music drift any which way it desires. While no less atmospheric than “Prisma,” the Outsiders b-sides are far more resonant. They find Silver striking the perfect balance between atmosphere and structure — between letting his songs’ mood and ambience reign supreme and restraining them just enough to heighten the emotional impact. For all of their engineering, programming, and whatnot, it’s to Silver’s credit that these songs never seem sterile or artificial.

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