Fresh Cut: Outlands – ‘Outlands’ EP
Virginia’s disco-noir outfit Outlands lift inspiration from contemporary smooth jazz while drenching their entire production in rotund bass grinds and sultry vocal whispers. Melissa and Mark were nice enough to let us host a first-listen stream of their self-titled debut EP. They also provided a detailed overview of the release, which includes a series of excerpts describing the background for each track. So pour the wine, invite over that special someone, and enjoy the seductive sounds of Outlands.
“The Looming”: Among other meanings, the word “loom” is a nautical term for a part of an oar, and “looming” is a term used by sailors to refer to an indistinct object appearing in the horizon, usually in the dark or mist. The first chapter of ‘Moby Dick’ is called “Loomings”. It seemed like the perfect track to put first—it’s gentle, wavelike with layered harmonies right away, and then picks up about halfway through the song. But don’t let the lulling aspect fool you. It’s really, really sad, and it lyrically borrows a lot from Melville’s prose, especially with images of boys growing up near the water and being attached to it as a livelihood, a battlefield, a graveyard. The last few lines are these: “we’ll swear every time we’ve returned | joining arms, sailors | never as passengers | and we’ll die fighting | every time to water.”
“Com Ocean”: This is the track that really started the whole Outlands project. Mark wanted the 2nd half—after the choir break—to be really kinetic, which he achieved by recording some tracks to cassette, then sort of re-sampling them and blending the original and taped versions together. Our pal/collaborator Tommy Davidson is remixing this song and it’s going to knock you out. Seriously.
“Black Ops”: We really wanted to get it to sound abrasive, dirty, mean. Oddly enough, most of the original demo keyboard parts were used. The vocals took ages to get right because of how spot-on the fifth harmony has to be. Melissa wanted an intro poem that would reinforce the song’s content, and when we heard Denise Levertov reading “Life During Wartime”, a poem she wrote during the Vietnam War—it fit perfectly. Her line, “the same war continues,” is looped at the beginning.
“Sisters/Lovers”: Melissa came up with two really distinct vocal melodies one that was more Elizabeth Fraser-y and then the sultrier one we actually went with. It’s funny how different the track could’ve sounded. When we were recording the vocals, after every take, Mark kept shouting, “that was great! now sing it sexier!” That became our vocal recording motto.
“Broken English [Marianne Faithfull]“: This is sort of an accidental track, and the quickest to record and produce. Broken English is a Marianne Faithfull cover – it’s a longer story about how we chose it, but that album is great. Mark turned it into a dance track. It also marks the appearance of a new keyboard for us, the Korg Poly 800. Melissa made Mark sing on it, and you can hear his voice, very far back, in the bridge-choruses.
“LDW (Black Ops Remix)”: LDW stands for “Life During Wartime,” which is a not-so-subtle clue as to how we wanted the track to be received. It doesn’t really have a lot to do with the original “Black Ops”, except for its ethereal vocal snippets and a chopped up edit of the intro poem. A friend commented that it reminded him of a 90′s Orbital track, which was an insanely awesome compliment!