Perturbator – The Uncanny Valley

(Blood Music, 2016)

Although the Paris-based Synthwave-artist James Kent has quite a number of releases in his discography (since 2012), Perturbator is a name that most likely started to spread more widely after the release of his previous album “Dangerous Days”. In this age of total retro-mentality, of hardcore vintage-worship, of complete copying of vibes of the past, it is no surprise numerous Electronic artists with a huge boner for the eighties (and its neon-lighted palm-tree-shadowed arcade-sounds) fill the underground, with names like Carpenter Brut being synonymous of THAT feeling.

Personally I enjoy (for example) the massive orchestral and symphonic soundscapes merged with the minimal vintage synth aesthetics Daft Punk gave us on the “Tron: Legacy” OST as opposed to the pure eighties-copying done by some 18 year old (which is way more common these days than the first mentioned approach), and luckily Perturbator gives us something a bit more experimental and diverse as well on this his latest effort.

The album has apparently been conceived during a two years period of intense music making, and is a concept album of sorts with a very well-thought narrative in the background (something we will not dive into in this review), and this can be heard in the variation of the songs and musical material. As is mentioned in Wikipedia, Kent has some background in playing guitar in Black Metal bands, and apparently for this reason this kind of hard-hitting Synthwave is quite popular among fans of more Extreme Metal-oriented tastes (as well), but I can’t personally find too much of Metal “influences” in this material, per se. The style is intense enough as it is.

While “Dangerous Days” was perhaps a more “traditional” album in the sense it offered the soundscapes which could have been heard in the eighties, Uncanny Valley (a term used describe the feeling of unease when a human being confronts an artificial intelligence or almost-realistic computer-generated surroundings, for example) is often far more intense and aggressive with its soundscapes. The synth sounds are often more threatening and intrusive than for example the bass-drums, giving the malicious technological rhythm and groove to many of the songs, and often letting only the snare to break their intense attack upon the ears.

Multiple layered melodies fill up the rainy neon-flashing nightly streets and glowing sky of the city which is this album. The varied and versatile melodies (or riffs if you will) usually work well together, and when there are moments where the song is taking a turn to an uninteresting, too-repetitive or dissonant direction, some sort of an interlude or a bridge takes our attention to the next part of the song, giving us a feeling of the good skills of the musician when it comes to arrangement.

While many of the songs have the action-packed intensity of a battle between two clashing cyberpunk gangs, there are many calm songs as well, in the true cinematic tradition (reminding often of course of works like the classic “Blade Runner” OST by Vangelis). Jazzy parts, female vocals and narration, and other atmospheric elements take our minds often to even philosophical realms in the true sci-fi tradition. This stuff would of course work perhaps the best in the background of some animated film or series, but the inner visions it gives on its own are strong enough to consider this album to be an “audial film” of great inner / personal qualities, depending on the listener.

The overall quality of the compositions, the soundscapes (the choosing and creation of the synth-sounds), and the general editing / arranging and mixing make this album of course (as undoubtedly expected by fans) one of the very best of the genre. Still, if you do not have that personal connection to the eighties, either via existing in that decade of childhood arcades and video game and film gems, or by pure retro-absorption, you most likely will be at very unease states here (as the name of the album implies). The rest of us who know the deal, will find this a very pleasant and cool experience, either as background music (in our daily personal films) or as a trip to something much more deeper and perhaps even more real.

Altho streaming for free online, with 13 songs (of lengths ranging between about 4 and 7 mins) this album has tremendous relistening value, making it a good purchase as a physical entity as well.

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