Tag Archives: retrowave

Perturbator: Dangerous Days

Perturbator: Dangerous Days- I had a thought unrelated to this review that I think applies. The majority of ‘artists’ are really just filler. They’re marginally good enough in talent or technical ability to be on the radio or known in their sphere of influence but don’t really contribute anything truly creative nor do they innovate. You only hear new stuff from them when a new sample pack comes out or the software they use gets an upgrade. They just exist to take some pressure off of the true creators; elevator tunes in between floors. Then there are guys like Perturbator.

Admittedly I’ve been a fan of Perturbator since the first day synthwave entered my life so I was very excited to be able to review his work and yes, I had high expectations. Dangerous Days is an absolute clinic of how synthwave should be done and how to do it well. It’s an intense sci-fi outrun full of ear pleasing melodies, satisfying progressions, and coy nods to some of our favorite bits of retro futurism.

‘Welcome Back’ and ‘Perturbator’s Theme’ are both intro and opening tracks that sort of blend into one aggressive outrun track. Nothing mindblowing just yet, but this is just Perturbator cracking his knuckles and taking a few breaths. ‘Raw Power’ is a glitchy, 8-bit descent into violence and madness that reminds us that video arcades used to be dangerous dens of gambling, drugs and murder, if Robocop 2, Deathwish or The Lost Boys are to be believed. ‘Future Club’ achieves a sound Daft Punk could come up with if they took off the helmets and put on death masks. It’s dark, it’s catchy, and it layers synths that dance very suggestively with each other.

‘War Against Machines’ is a nod to probably the greatest action movie theme ever, but ‘Hard Wired’ is where Dangerous Days reaches its most gorgeous peak. This is a slow, deep synth cruise that features haunting vocals. Yet there are fantastic and whimsical qualities to the track. It’s a darkly sweet love theme, a cascade of stars falling along a nuclear skyline. While that may be my favorite, and perhaps best, track on the album, ‘She is Young, She is Beautiful, She is Next’ and ‘Humans Are Such Easy Prey’ feature all the things I love about Perturbator. There are aggressive drum arrangements, interesting progressions, glitched moments, tempo shifts and quick melodies but also a lot of little things too. Whether Perturbator drops a pad or instrument for a brief moment of peace for a measure, throws in a different snare, or compliments his synth work with a guitar riff or vice versa, there’s an attention to detail here that I’m so impressed with. Perturbator approaches his work like an absinthe maddened composer, seeing and hearing and feeling a galaxy of things all at once and frantically working to capture his vision before it fades. That’s exactly how I would describe Dangerous Days.

The album ends with its title track, which is a twelve minute synth symphony that recalls the days when EDM tracks were considered short if they were less than six minutes. This is an exploration of many themes and it could easily be broken up into several stand alone tracks, but I choose to think of it as the score to a short sci-fi film. Perturbator does have the chops to score a film, or anything for that matter, so I plan on looking for his name in the credits when they decide to make a movie based on Contra or a sequel to Far Cry: Blood Dragon. Dangerous Days is many things: a dark vision of the future, a drive into the very heart of malice, a madman’s scratchings into the wall of synth. But it is also a love letter and a true compositional masterpiece. Now I imagine Perturbator will rest and recharge, and search for new inspiration in a closet of old skeletons, perhaps. Until next he decides to call out to the creatures of the night and lay fingers on keys again, I suppose I’ll have to occupy my time with the ever present filler…10/10

‘She is Young, She is Beautiful, She is Next’

 

 

 

Dress-2-Kill: Fuck You, Asshole

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Dress-2-Kill: Fuck You, Asshole — Nostalgia has a funny way of warping our perception of things. There’s a reason why the phrase “rose tinted glasses” exists. The love we have for things in our childhood or just things from bygone eras is a difficult animal to describe. Some things stand the test of time because well made things always do, regardless of the decade from whence they came. Some things are terrible but still earn a place in our hearts because of their association with happy memories, and yet other things are so bad they come full circle to being good again.

I can think of only one man, one icon of the eighties that exists in all three realms of nostalgia: Arnold Schwarzenegger. No one else represents quality journeys into retro futurism (The Terminator, The Running Man), celebrations of violence and one liners (Commando, The Predator), and poor ideas executed terribly (Hercules in New York) quite like Arnold does. Dress-2-Kill has distilled the Arnie zeitgeist into a hard hitting synth adventure, proudly titled Fuck You, Asshole.

‘It’s Only Science Fiction’ leads us quickly into a room-filling synth melody, and while it isn’t the meatiest of tracks on Fuck You, Asshole, it serves as a perfect appetizer for the main course (Green Berets). ‘The Running Man’ is somewhat similar but the urgency of the synth work and the drone of the bass are evocative of an 8-bit run for your life, culminating in one of my favorite lines from Commando. Probably my favorite track on Fuck You, Asshole is ‘A Hooker With Three Tits’ featuring Kiile. The synths, the little guitar riffs and delayed wails, the toms all come together in such an effective way that I really felt like I was at a bar on the wrong side of Mars, wondering where my next breath of air was going to come from.

‘You’re One Ugly Motherfucker’ is a descent into paranoid synth madness with dashes of horror and sci-fi thrown in because, there IS something out there waiting for us, and it ain’t no man. ‘I Don’t Do Requests’ closes out Fuck You, Asshole with another expansive, atmospheric track that features some cool outrun sensibilities.

It’s not uncommon for a producer to so transparently pay homage to retro royalty, and it’s not uncommon for those homages to be awesome; the synthwave family has many talented members. It’s uncommon, however, for a producer to so wonderfully capture the spirit of a legend the way Dress-2-Kill does on Fuck You, Asshole. Indeed, from the title of the EP to the title of each song, it’s clear who inspired D2K. But what counts is the music and this is a solid piece of pure synthwave. Before Fuck You, Asshole I thought it would’ve been impossible to capture the sound of one man who is an unstoppable cyborg killer that’s being chased by both the galaxy’s greatest hunter and ruthless brutes competing for television ratings, while he tries to find his kidnapped daughter and liberate Mars in the process, but D2K went and did it. Next time you need to let off some steam and feel like an Arnie marathon, skip the VCR and put on Fuck You, Asshole8.5/10

A Hooker With Three Tits (feat. Kiile)

Parallels at The Hotel Café

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Navigating the streets of Hollywood on a Saturday night is not easy, to ridiculously understate it. There are literally thousands of people clogging the streets, from all walks of life, heading to all manner of places. Most are headed to stand in long lines to pay to stand in longer lines to buy a drink, and to finally dance for maybe forty five minutes to a DJ who no one’s ever heard of but is someone who deserves to have his name on a marquee.

I was on my way elsewhere, to an alleyway on Cahuenga Boulevard. Down that alleyway, behind all the storefronts, was a door that led into the Hotel Café, where I’d be seeing one of my absolute favorite bands, Parallels.

Parallels is a synthpop trio from Toronto, Canada. Holly Dodson provides vocals and synths, her brother Nick is on drums, and on synths, guitar and backup vocals is Artem Galperine. They’ve seen their way through two albums and were featured on the soundtrack to an Oscar-winning short. I’ve personally been a fan for a year and change; their sound intoxicated me from the first verse and I consider them a gateway band to all things synth and retro. So it was with much excitement that I sat as close to the stage as possible and waited for the show to start.

The Hotel Café itself has a good reputation for seeing bands “up close” and is conducive to seeing folk artists. It makes sense; there are tables set up very close to the stage, and the lighting and stage layout is pretty much meant for people staying very still. Still, the band plugged in with relative ease and got the show started soon after I sat down. For those unfamiliar with the Parallels sound, I would say it’s a special blend of Madonna, Pat Benatar and Depeche Mode, with icy cool modern synth sensibilities to hold it all together.

Holly introduced the band in a sweet, polite, almost shy way before tearing into their first two songs. It was absolute synth heaven. I will compliment the Hotel Café for having great acoustics, even if they don’t really encourage dancing. Nick had an awesome moment toward the end of the third or fourth song where his drum solo completely eclipsed the tapestry of synth hanging in the room. After that, Parallels kicked into a primer of their music. Beginning with Electromotion, they played ‘Moonlight Desires’ (an amazing cover of a Gowan song; check out the video and thank me later), ‘City of Stars’, ‘Things Fall Apart’, ‘Ultralight’ and ‘Midnight Voices.’

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Holly reminds me of synthwave Stevie Nicks. Her vocal style is both tantalizing and soothing and she does well showing passion with restraint, fun and exuberance with a laser focus on providing a quality experience for the audience member. The set did feel a little brief, but I’ll chalk that up to this show being scheduled at the last moment.

My one gripe, and this is not with the band at all, is the lack of people in the venue. Holly and the band were affable and infinitely thankful to a fairly empty room. I was happy that I had finally gotten to see one of my favorite bands play live but I was a little frustrated for them because of the low turnout. I know that Los Angeles is a town full of live music, so no one room can expect to be packed, but I also know (I KNOW) that Parallels is a band well-overdue for some serious attention. They’ve already put in much more genuine work than a lot of acts out there and it’s clear that they love what they do. Success is a process, not an event, so I suppose they’ll get the love and attention they deserve soon enough. And I suppose I’ll fondly remember the night I saw them in an empty room, shook Holly’s hand, and thanked her for coming to LA.

I hope this will be just the first of many shows here, because Parallels is a hugely talented band comprised of genuinely cool and likable people, which is rare in this town. Diamonds in a city of hard rocks, if you will. I do have it on good authority that we’ll be able to witness the synth magic that is Parallels towards the fall season. Until then, I’ll be waiting on this bustling street, so full of people but yet so lacking in joy and music.

The Astral Stereo Project – Disco Death Sleaze

The Astral Stereo Project – Disco Death Sleaze - I’m always fascinated by how an artist interprets their influences. There isn’t one specific sound an artist wants to go for; it’s always a handful of influences, some of which aren’t even related to music, that have to be considered and picked through and processed by the mind of the artist. Sometimes it’s a disaster: there are too many influences and the project crumbles beneath that weight. Other times we get an album that sits at an interesting crossroads, a child born of many strange parents, a fusion dish that has hints of every amazing ingredient.

This is how I came to understand Disco Death Sleaze by The Astral Stereo Project. It’s got the strangely pleasing sound of a disco band making the transition to a new decade, new influences and new instruments, while still retaining their dance club roots. The album is somewhere between New Order, Newcleus and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, with a little Italo and horror synth thrown in for good measure.

The album starts off with ‘Discotheque’, punctuated with a piercing shriek and a pulsating horror synth bassline, but it really doesn’t continue with that theme. There are sparse, light vocals and samples waxing philosophic about retro futurism. It’s a bit scattered, and based on this first track I wasn’t sure what to expect.

‘Savage Narcissus’ is a little clearer with its intentions. It’s a moody, string heavy outrun track that’s great for a bit of night driving. ‘DeSelle Intermezzo’ is a similar, if not more complex, track that in my opinion is slightly stronger than its preceding track.

It isn’t until ‘Skin Deep’ that Disco Death Sleaze really hits its stride for me. It’s a laid-back, charming song that strikes me as a cross between Daft Punk’s ‘Something About Us’ and The Bee Gees’ ‘How Deep Is Your Love?’ I kept replaying it because it has a perfect, lovesick, aimless, driving aesthetic to it. Following that is ‘Cruising (2AM)’ and between the two I’m hard pressed to choose a favorite. This sounds like a nod to Newcleus’ ‘Destination Earth’, which is a track I wish more producers would emulate.

‘Death in Bavaria’ is an interesting track driven by strings and piano and reminds me of early house tracks. Danceable, but not overpowering. ‘Lieben Suite’ ends the album with a slow vocal track, again giving off strong Bee Gees vibes.

I will admit that it took me a bit to get into Disco Death Sleaze. But my slowness to understand should not be taken as a strike against The Astral Stereo Project. There are some cool concepts at work that are worthy of attention. This isn’t synthwave in the typical sense, nor is it disco or any of its influences. It’s a movie score, a dance album, an experimental project, a soundtrack to a strange evening that involved fog machines and cough syrup. I hope The Astral Stereo Project continue to throw genres and influences into the meat grinder, because I for one am interested in the result…8.5/10

Skin Deep

Wave Runner Records – Running All Night Compilation

Wave Runner Records: Running All Night Compilation – Compilations are great ways to get into new genres of music, or find an artist you may have overlooked. Running All Night is just that, but there’s also a personal touch to it. Wave Runner Records is the child of Morgan Griffin and I have to give the man credit for having an ear for amazing talent. Indeed, the Wave Runner label represents a great deal of the artists that drew me into the retro/synth sound. However, I do have to say that if you’ve been poking around on YouTube and Bandcamp long enough, you’ve probably already heard a lot of these artists.

But I’d like to think that this compilation is meant more for music lovers who may not know about the undistilled magic that is ’80s nostalgia and retro/synth wave, so I suppose I am at my most useful when pointing out the highlights and the many, many reasons this genre demands your attention, oh strange reader.

The comp opens with ‘Boardwalk Sunset’ by Highway Superstar and if any track were to proclaim a love for retro, it’s this sunny, sax driven, fun song. This is his most lighthearted track and a good introduction to the artist, but Highway Superstar is a huge talent that really can’t be defined by just one song. ‘Hot Stunner’ featuring Nikki by Phaserland is no different. Phaserland is an impressive architect of sound whose music opened my eyes to the scope of synthwave. I would consider both Highway Superstar and Phaserland as ambassadors of the retro/synth movement. They’d be the first guys I’d look up when introducing someone to synthwave.

That said, one of Wave Runner’s big hitters is Mitch Murder. Mitch has been producing flagship tracks since day one and his track featuring Miranda Carey, ‘Just Till Midnight’, is a shining example of his talent, although to be fair, it wouldn’t be half the track it is without Miranda’s sweet, catchy vocals. It reminds me less of the “idea” of retro but more of actual old school/freestyle tracks from the ’80s. If you put this song in rotation with Debbie Deb and Connie and Lisa Lisa I doubt anyone would be the wiser. The song is so pleasing to the ear that I’d definitely like to see more artists explore a sound that has more of a freestyle/R&B slant.

Following Mitch Murder can be a difficult task, but the fourth track is easily my favorite on the whole comp: ‘Time in Time’, by the impeccable Sunglasses Kid featuring Kristine. I kept going back to this track because of the bassline and the vocals. Sunglasses Kid is no joke; I haven’t heard a song by him that wasn’t masterfully arranged. But his collaboration with Kristine, for me, redefines the word “cool.” ‘Time in Time’ is full of soothing, sensuous vocals and Sunglasses Kid crafts a track that complements Kristine’s unmistakable voice without ever taking the focus away from her. It’s like watching professional dancers effortlessly glide across the floor.

Lueur Verte lends ‘Malibu Sunrise’ to the comp. While it does evoke images the title would suggest, there’s also a signature dramatic flair beneath the synth work that made me a fan of LV in the first place. A Space Love Adventure brings us the first real outrun-style track with the ASLA remix of ‘Nicole’. This is an intense track with an awesome build, with some choice guitar riffs at the peak.

The upbeat outrun continues with Sellorekt/LA Dreams’ ‘Alive’, and Lueur Verte reappears with ‘Night Slasher 2′ for some more horror-themed sounds. Starforce and Tommy bring us ‘Interstellar’, which is a sonic painting of an alien landscape. ‘Car Clova’ is an interesting track by Farfletched. It’s dark, fun, funky and blends elements of synth funk and horror, with a taste of outrun.

It’s in these last several tracks that I found a few gems. Swagbot’s ‘Trying’ and Adeyhawke’s ‘Disco Idalium’ are interesting deconstructions of both sound and genre convention, and while not “traditional” synthwave, if such a thing exists, these artists are definitely ones to keep an eye on when looking for a more lateral approach to the music.

I’d consider Running All Night more of a mixtape than a compilation, and we are all that special someone Morgan Griffin had in mind when making it. It’s also important to mention that this comp is a reminder of how close-knit this community of artists and fans really is, given how willing to contribute all the featured artists were, and that the comp itself is a labor of love. I also have it on good authority that there’s more on the horizon from Wave Runner Records. Until then, we happily float in the sea of synth. If you’re interested in the genre at all, this is your diving board…10/10

Disco Idalium