With much of the New Wave push coming from Europe in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it’s no surprise that the revival might sprout from the same region. The young Irish pop artist, OUTSIDER, attempts to bring about this new era, with his first full-length LP, Karma of Youth (2020), and he’s already taken large strides. Featured on the soundtrack of FIFA 18, his single, “Míol Mór Mara,” attracted a decent amount of attention, and has now been streamed roughly two million times on Spotify alone. Its bright, soothing synths, and deep-but-understated bass line create an energy that is both strong and timid. The track takes the sounds and instruments of Joy Division and New Order, but adds a simpler, pop-inspired songwriting style, more similar to the Cars. The combination is a crash course on all sides of the New Wave train, tightened up with some 21st century production quality; a sound that only continues on Karma of Youth.
While “Míol Mór Mara” maintains as a strong part of the record, OUTSIDER manages to explore many other realms of ’80s music on the other seven tracks. One of the more unique cuts on the album, “Revelation Night Drive,” utilizes instrumentation that’s very similar to his break-out single, but his different vocal approach, and additional rock pieces make it sound much more like a Bruce Springsteen song. Powerful drums and power-pop guitars accompany the established New Wave sound, but add their own flavor; the end result resembling a young Springsteen with a bit more synthetic backup.
Other tracks are a bit more aggressive in their approach. “Brotherhood O.A.,” and “Motörmaze” both bring a punk-esque bite to them that’s highlighted incredibly well in the chorus alone. The tracks are each slow to start, with “Motörmaze” being a bit more up-tempo in comparison. As they develop, though, additional instruments join the party, OUTSIDER’s voice increases in volume, and you’re left with a wall of sound for a chorus, often repeating itself several times. The equation used to create these choruses is found throughout the release, but with “Saviour,” and “Íosa Chroí,” they’re accompanied by a variety of bright synths to smooth everything out.
Providing even more synth-based enjoyment is the final track, “Saturns Return.” It continues the instrumental trends, fading in with some deep, now-slow bass, but finally, it allows the synths to shine for a majority of the track. It’s an instrumental track, made up of all the pieces introduced on the record thus far, but those bright synths that play a secondary role shine through, blasting ahead of every other piece of the song. The initial dramatic, slow-paced section, the echoey riffs, and the final, driving synths make this a triumphant closer to the album, despite no words being said. In a lot of ways, it could be the best track on the record.
Karma of Youth takes all of the sounds and strengths from OUTSIDER’s initial break-out single, and spreads them out over eight total tracks. It’s a relatively small LP, but it communicates all it needs to. Each piece is filled with its own personality, and even if the instrumentation can seem simplistic at times, it thrives in it; making it more accessible than more traditional New Wave, like Unknown Pleasures (1979). As a whole, it’s a strong debut project from OUTSIDER, presenting all of his influences in a way that makes them clear, but his own. The only thing missing is a bit more variety in things like song structure, as a majority of the choruses get same-y toward the end; and potentially less fade-ins and fade-outs. I’m personally not a fan of that specific ’80s fad. I’m thinking a 7/10 on this one.
Favorite Track(s): “Míol Mór Mara,” “Saturns Return,” “Revelation Night Drive”
Least Favorite Track(s): “Young Gods of Na Sionna”