One of the most impressive things about CFCF — the project of musician/producer Mike Silver — is how clearly defined his sound and aesthetics were right from the start. A lot of electronic musicians have a difficult time moving away from their influences towards something wholly unique, but from Panesian Nights onward, Silver has been skillfully crafting soundscapes that recall the warm, inviting aspects of ambient and new age compositions without delving too far into the sorts of things that can make those genres appear empty and forgettable. The series of EPs he has released (The River, Exercises, Music For Objects) have only served to deepen his sound while carving out an identity for Silver as a musician, establishing him as something more than another face in front of a laptop screen. It’s led to Silver taking that next great step with his second full-length album, Outside, and the result is a masterful collection of songs that is at once self-assured and emotionally direct to the point of fragility.
Since his debut full-length Continent, Silver has slowly been moving towards a more song-oriented style of composition, and Outside feels like the culmination of that at times. His reference points have also expanded in the past four years: While Warp Records and Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works remain touchstones for Silver, Outside finds him incorporating some of the more obvious signifiers of new age into his sound. This is fairly evident from the moment that pan flutes appear on “Beyond Light” to start the album off, but it’s also present in the epic sweep of the music and the way that Silver has arranged the songs on Outside. The inherent, electronic paranoia of his previous work is gone, replaced with a yearning for something real yet all-too-alien. As he attempts to make his music more organic, Silver succeeds at something even greater on Outside: He makes his music human.
Of course, we can’t talk about this record without talking about Silver’s voice, which is mixed so far ahead of everything else that it’s clear that Silver wanted his vocals to be the focal point of some of these songs. He’s not exactly a technically gifted singer, but his plaintive vocals work to greater emphasize the feelings that he’s trying to convey here. Aside from the occasional mis-step (the whispered verses of “Walking in the Dust” don’t really work as well as they should), Silver’s voice functions well as another ambient texture, flowing seamlessly into the songs and making Outside into an even more impressive accomplishment.
Ironically, the very human nature of CFCF’s latest record will probably be the most alienating thing about it for some people. It veers very far away from his earlier work, so much so that the average ambient/electronica listener may not know what to make of Outside. The slick, polished feel of the songs here may even leave some to feel that the album is little more than ambient background music. But Silver is too clever of a songwriter to do that, and upon closer examination, one can find the beating heart at the center of Outside. It’s well worth the journey.