When the Beatles released Rubber Soul in 1965, it changed the way people consumed music. At the time, singles drove the industry, and full-length albums were considered vehicles for established hits alongside trite offerings of filler and afterthoughts. Rubber Soul was the first album to see the medium as a means of total expression, the first of its kind to be so listenable throughout while communicating a cohesive and coherent statement.
Now, 51 years later, the industry finds itself leaning toward a singles-heavy environment once again. Nowhere is this more prevalent than the world of dance—a scene that, even in its most vibrant points of history, produces only a handful of thoughtful albums in any given year. There was a spattering of iconic LPs in the ‘90s, but that moment of inspiration proved fleeting.
Thankfully, some artists refuse to let the art of the album die, choice among them being UK house duo Dusky. The attention to detail and pure soul the pair—producers/DJs Alfie Granger-Howell and Nick Harriman—infused in their debut album, Stick by This (2011), made it an instant favorite among the headiest house fans and casual pop listeners alike. Five years later, follow-up full-length album Outer—out now via Dusky’s own label, 17 Steps, in partnership with Astralwerks—once again dares toward artistic elevation, both simply and finely, from start to finish.
“It’s quite difficult, and I think that’s why people don’t do it,” says Granger-Howell regarding producing full-length albums. “Dance music albums tend to end up not really working. If it’s just a collection of club tracks, then it’s just completely pointless to put it out as an album. It’s quite hard to tie it all together and have something that sounds cohesive when you’re having club tracks and other things you might not normally put out on an album. [Outer] works for us; it remains to be seen whether other people enjoy it.”
As an album, Outer is quite a diverse collection of sounds and styles. Between the expansive beauty of “Trough,” the dark bass-crunch of “Runny Nose,” and the grime-ridden minimalism of “Sort It Out Sharon,” the album’s 11 tracks offer a bit of something for every ear. Yet it’s the way the duo injects its soulful, strange mix of hope and melancholy into each track that ties the various angles together.
It’s a sophomore release that lands well among classic dance albums of the past. While writing and recording, Dusky enveloped their ears in the work of their forebears. Raised on classic dance albums from the Prodigy, Orbital, the Chemical Brothers, and the Future Sound of London, the producers climbed atop these giant shoulders in search of guidance and inspiration. It’s no surprise, then, that Outer echoes many of the musical flourishes of the golden-age sound of the 1990s.
“So much was changing in the world, in terms of technology,” Granger-Howell says of the period. “A lot more stuff was possible. People could buy samplers. People that could never afford to make music before could write music.”
“We grew up with it, as well,” he continues. “When you’re a little kid and you can’t go out to the big, massive acid-house parties, but you hear all the tapes, you have that kind of aspiration. It’s not like looking back; it’s just something that we’ve grown up with.”
Dusky recruited a couple of those elder heroes for vocal collaborations on Outer. “Sort It Out Sharon” taps Godfather of Grime, Wiley, while the eerie, synth-filled “Swansea” features vocal work from electronic pioneer Gary Numan.
“He’s just one of those huge artists who helped form what dance music has become,” Granger-Howell says of Numan. “Even if you’re not a fan of his work, you can’t really separate it from the history of electronic music as it exists now.”
Of course, nothing brings the spirit of new material to life more than a stellar live production. Dusky has already set about sharing their latest live set via a short UK tour and are kicking off a North American DJ tour this week, both treks further developing and showcasing the goosebump-inducing atmosphere of Outer as a whole.
“We’re very into writing music for picture,” says Harriman. “We’re trying to incorporate a cinematic feel into our productions, especially the ones on this album and the previous album. That’s what’s been so great about developing this live show—working so closely with visual artists, but as part of the creative process.”
If Dusky aren’t coming to a town near you, don’t fret. You could just press play, close your eyes, and be transported to a whole new world of sight and sound. Outer is stellar at inspiring that all on its own.
Outer from Dusky is available now on 17 Steps/Astralwerks.
Kat Bein is from outer space. Follow her on Twitter.