Serious question: When was the last time you heard a guitar solo on the radio?
It's been an odd couple of years for music. It's as if a chasm has opened up under what is classified as
pop music, and on one side of that great divide is the synth-heavy electronic beats that attract adjectives
like “blissed-out” or “dreamy” or “hazy.” While on the other side, the folk revivalists have set up camp, and they show no signs of taking their foot stomps and hand claps and going home.
So where did rock music go? Did it really fall victim to the pop music chasm along with rhythm and blues, jazz and soul?
Sure, there are a handful of bands who have managed to claw their way out of that infinite darkness, but those bands have emerged so soaked in nostalgia for times gone by that it's hard to take them seriously for more than a week.
All of this to say that listening to The Outfit is refreshing. More than refreshing, it's downright revitalizing. The Denver four piece of Eric Johnston (vocals), RJ Powers IV (drums), Michael King (bass) and Mikael Kilates (guitar), keeps things basic, but by no means stripped down. There is no need for synthesizers here. And you certainly won't find some whimsical instrument like a squeezebox.
The Outfit makes rock music, and they are hitting their stride doing it.
The group first came together in 2009 and hit the ground running. The original lineup, including Johnston, Casey Banker, Pat Lawless and Chris Cain Rothman recorded a 4-song EP and what would become the band's debut full-length that year.
But lineup changes, and personnel shuffling (including a brief stint as a 5-piece) made growing together as a band a little difficult. By the time Broken West Wishbone Test was actually released in 2011, only half of The Outfit had actually recorded it.
Even so, Broken West was a surprisingly assured debut. Even as the band was going through transitions, the album served as a perfect introduction. The unbridled energy, and clear rock 'n' roll approach paired with Johnston's laid-back croon that could turn wildman at at moment was a blueprint. Songs like “Softsided,” “Old Riot” and “Strange Bones” remained strong tracks, with a solid foundation while the band shifted behind them.
The next year, 2012, saw The Outfit (now in its current formation) touring relentlessly, coming together and focusing its energies on kicking as much ass as possible. Through the year they built a loyal fan base in Denver and elsewhere. As the band got more comfortable together, they began writing and recording a follow-up EP to Broken West Wishbone Test. But where the band's debut was recorded at what some may call break-neck speed, Tough Kids came together slowly.
“We were trying not to rush anything,” says bassist Michael King, “so the recording of that EP was stretched out over the course of about a year.”
When Tough Kids finally was released via Denver label Hot Congress in 2013, it was clear the band had turned a corner. The early promise heard on songs like “Strange Bones” was still there, but a more developed sound gave the band a kind of gritty solidarity.
Tough Kids saw The Outfit emerging, after years of trying unsuccessfully to lock down lineups, and finally stepping forward as a force in the Denver music scene. “El Presidente” shows the band at its grooviest, while “Projector” gets is a sweaty, unrelenting garage rocker, and the closing track “What Happened to You?” can only be called anthemic.
Now, as The Outfit releases two new tracks, “Station Wagon Apocalypse” and “Tyrannosaurus Surfboard,” the band is feeling more surefooted.
“There's a lot more confidence these days,” says King. “Writing and performing is feeling more natural.”
That confidence comes through in the recording process. While Tough Kids saw the band exercising patience and not rushing, the recording of these new tracks saw almost the opposite. King talks recording the new songs with Chris Fogal and Black in Bluhm studios.
“We took a much more straightforward approach than we did with Tough Kids,” he says. “We came in knowing what we wanted and Chris got it right away. We tracked live, Chris kept us on point, and the songs were practically ready to go by the end of the day.”
The result are two blistering rock 'n' roll songs. Not throwback, not garage rock revival — just straight-ahead, punch-in-the-mouth rock 'n' roll. Two bursts of energy that show that rock music is alive, and guitar solos are still exciting. With these two songs it is safe to say that The Outfit has arrived.
The band has no plans for a sophomore full-length album yet, but in the meantime plan to tour more and release more singles along the way.
The Outfit is battling back against the folkies and the computers, and taking no prisoners as they do. The pop music chasm still looms, but rock 'n' roll music is not lost to the darkness quite yet.