Perturbator - New Model
Synthwave has been growing steadily for the past five or so years, and 2016 was probably its biggest, gaining a lot of mainstream attention and the respect of a mass audience. Perturbator has consistently been the center of the scene, creating anthems that sound like they’d suit any cyberpunk horror/action film marvelously. The digital assault on the sense became more thrilling with each release. Last year, he dropped a masterwork album, Uncanny Valley, that propelled the name Perturbator and synthwave to new heights and helped him hit the road and travel from France to North America for a full tour. After the dust had settled, its safe to assume audiences weren’t expecting new music for awhile, considering the album was over an hour and had a bonus EP of B-sides totaling another forty minutes. Yet, New Model is here and with it, a reinvented sound, the only way to follow up such a defining album.
New Model greets us with Perturbator’s most tame intro, “Birth of the New Model.” Appropriate, right? Otherworldly tones that sound as if they were pulled from 80’s sci-fi films of aliens technology gradually build over the course of the song into a sound that is just unmistakably Perturbator. All the emblematic synth tones are elongated over a slowly programmed percussive track to create a neon-soaked, brooding beast that doesn’t make its move until just the right moment. The track leads into “Tactical Precision Disarray,” a song that could accompany a detective strolling down a decrepit street on his last cigarette in some neo-noir film. Maybe he takes a look down a dark alley and catches a glimpse of the perverted nightlife that comes out after the parties end. When you least expect it, they make eye contact with the wrong shady person, and the whole world seems to stand still as the detective’s stomach sinks, and all you can hear is the faint ticking of his watch before the thrilling chase. The progression is absolutely exquisite, and its crescendo will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up before the song eases you back into the gutter.
On Uncanny Valley, Perturbator surprised us by including vocals for the first time after a number of vocal-less releases, and “Vantablack” gives us yet another great performance, this time from OddZoo. The whispered, reverb-heavy vocals unfurl over a slow plodding bass, following by a sinister recurring tone slithering into the foreground. What may be most surprising is how ghostly moments of the track are, as the vocals float this eerie melody and drop into a hushed guttural. Do I dare say it sounds like Dan Barrett of Have a Nice Life, Giles Corey, and Black Wing? And I haven’t even talked about some of the best parts of this record. “Tainted Empire” is a greater rollercoaster ride than “Tactical Precision Disarray.” Staccato mid-range bass notes, closer to chiptune than synthwave, pummel you under its glitchy sheath. The track stays on a tight leash of fast-moving melody until it suddenly opens up for soundscape lulls. Just when you start getting comfortable, he drops you right into the digital tarpit. It may not be Frontierer, but it’s laborious ferocity is undeniable.
“Corrupt by Design” is something I don’t think Perturbator has explored before. The song is paranoia-inducing, with a melody that darts from side to side, punctuated by ringing sound bytes or distant electronic screeches. There's no safe space in the track, even when a warm bassline and swelling strings center the song, guiding us to one final reset before the ten minute finale of “God Complex,” which opens with a roaring chord reaching up from the depths. Rather than following up with a predictable wall of sound, this sonic beast takes its time pulling itself out of a swirl of mid- to high-range tones, making your head spin as its melody morphs through chiptune and soft keyboard tracking, crawling along the low road of sound on its way to a moment of truth. The beat starts picking up again, the melodic elements of the track subsuming to its quaking bass, but there’s no fanfare or even relief at the end of the road--just a minute of unresolved silence.
New Model is a turning point for Perturbator; an album that, like Every Time I Die’s Low Teens, presents an incredibly intimate development in a discography that is arguable more disconnected from reality than others. While there isn’t a widely-covered horror story preceding this album, New Model taps into a well of emotion that can seemingly only come from experiences with a dark place. It's hard to imagine a better follow up to Uncanny Valley I will be shelling out soon for one of the 180g vinyl pressings before they sell out.. I could see this being hard to swallow if you just recently jumped on the hype train last year, but for someone like me who's been listening for years, it's a surprising breath of fresh air I didn’t know I needed.
- Alex B.