(Editor’s Note: This review is by Jeff Treppel, a music journalist and synthwave connoisseur. He recently profiled NewRetroWave for Bandcamp.)
The stark, monolithic factory on the cover of Perturbator’s new EP states quite clearly what to expect within: No neon, no sexy ladies, no cyberpunk trappings; just cold, impersonal machinery. Perturbator (a.k.a. James Kent) has used EPs in the past to explore specific parts of his sound. Sexualizer played with sunny Italo Disco elements. New Model highlights the opposite. It’s a harsh, grinding industrial assault — just filtered through Kent’s exceptional songcraft.
“Kent is in the midst of a brilliant creative streak.”
Last year’s exceptional The Uncanny Valley brought Perturbator’s dark synthwave sound to cinematic extremes, layer after layer of synthesizers and samples building an entire world out of each track. In some ways, this feels like a reaction to that release. This model isn’t so much new as it is reduced to its bare bones. The lean, skeletal engine underneath takes center stage, throwing out the glitzy dance parts and sexy ballads in favor of harsh, metallic simplicity. “Tainted Empire” demonstrates this perfectly — the dubstep bass drops striking like ball hammers, the synthesizers distorted to the point of violence.
These six tracks don’t get quite as raw as the output from Kent’s current tourmate, Author & Punisher, but you can see why he chose that mechanistic industrial artist as his opening act. It’s a scary side trip outside of the electric alleyways of Nocturne City. Even though his previous work ventured into the darkness, it never strayed far from the pulsing lights of the dance floor. This EP offers no such solace. It contains Kent’s songwriting signatures, but the edges feel sharper. “Tactical Precision Disarray” still makes use of his layered approach to songwriting. It just feels more stripped down. It revels in the ugliness.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the closing salvo, “God Complex,” which almost sounds like a Rhys Fulber Fear Factory remix. It’s one of the more outlying tracks in the Perturbator discography, bringing together ambient and industrial in an unsettling clash.
Also atypical: “Vantablack,” one of his few songs to feature a male vocalist – in this case OddZoo, a French electro musician. Usually, Kent gravitates towards more ethereal female singers, but here he goes for a more gothic/industrial approach to the lyric delivery. Tangents like those only add to the enigmatic nature of this release.
None of this is to say that New Model doesn’t live up to Perturbator’s high bar of quality. Unless he decides to do a bluegrass album or something, Kent is in the midst of a brilliant creative streak. While not as immediately infectious as his previous work (and deliberately so), his willingness to try different sounds shows just how vital an artist he is. It would be disappointing if this was his approach moving forward — he has too great of a knack for hooks and I have enough ‘90s industrial albums in my collection already. Still, it takes a certain level of bravery to give your fans something this aggressively dissonant at your (current) commercial peak like Kent does here.
You can purchase the EP, which record label Blood Music released, from Perturbator’s Bandcamp page. (Digital is out now, physical is forthcoming.) You can also catch him on tour in the United States, if your local show isn’t already sold out. (More on that on the Bandcamp page, too.)