If Daft Punk were commissioned to score a cyberpunk horror film of the likes of Hardware, the resulting work may sound something like what Paris musician James “Perturbator” Kent has come up with on 2014’s Dangerous Days, the latest of his four albums. Utilizing vintage synthesizer sound straight out of the Miami Vice era, Perturbator lets loose with aggressive arpeggios and wispy melodies, creating music that, similar to a group like Zombi, seems to have been influenced by the vintage soundtrack work by the likes of John Carpenter and Goblin. Though the melodies and individual tones heard here are straight out of the 1980s however, Perturbator’s music is clearly made within the framework of obstreperous modern electro, with crushing beats propelling Dangerous Days through dark and ominous soundscapes that harken back to the menacing futuristic atmosphere of Blade Runner.
Dangerous Days plays out as a concept album set in the “urban nightmare” of 2088 and detailing (mostly through instrumental music) a war in which computers and robots attempt to wipe out all traces of humanity. The bleak and cold imagery conjured up by that story permeates most every track here, and following the brief “Welcome Back” introduction in which groaning low tones are joined with a creepy bell tune, the album heads right into its first grinding synthesizer assault with “Perturbator’s Theme.” Perhaps one of the more kinetic tracks here - which is saying something, the track is most interesting for the way it integrates various appealing melodies in a seething mass of icy keyboard lines. “Raw Power” is more percussive, with an unrelenting, harsh bass driving the song forward and bloopy 8-bit melodies only occasionally injecting some warmth into the proceedings. Slightly spacey “Future Club” slows the tempo a bit but is plenty intimidating in its own right, incorporating more modern electronic trappings along with its prominent arpeggiating synthesizer and pounding bass. Though this and many of the other tracks here are mightily repetitive, there are more than enough compelling elements and cool sounds to keep one’s attention.
Thunderous percussion accents disguise the fact that “War Against the Machines” has one of the album’s most delicate melodies, the track providing a nice intro to “Hard Wired” which is one of the few here with vocals. Vaguely similar to the melancholic synthpop of The Chromatics, this piece features a soothing female vocal atop a less complicated instrumental base and finally heads into a clanking futuristic disco section before its quiet conclusion. I’m confident the follow-up track “She is Young, She is Beautiful, She is Next” fits somehow in the ongoing conceptual narrative with the one that preceded it, a more punishing number with grating bass along with a cold and aggressive chord structure. Moderately slower “Humans are Such Easy Prey” which, appropriately enough, starts off with an appropriate sound sample from The Terminator, continues in much the same way and demonstrates a general lack of hope that’s quite obviously overwhelming the album by this juncture.
The almost obligatory, emotionally resonant slow song “Minuit”changes up that vibe significantly, having an almost religious feel in the context in which it’s heard. Playing out to a more meditative tempo, a groaning, chanted male voice part alternates with a smooth female line and airy background vocals but, as might be expected, we’re shortly back to cold and calculating business with the downright sinister “Satanic Rites.”As Dangerous Days approaches its conclusion, the breakneck-paced “Complete Domination” and ponderous, solemn “Last Kiss” give way for the twelve-minute title song which closes the album. This may be the track here that’s most similar to mainstream electronic, with a heavy, straight-forward rhythm and chord structuring that at times recalls those found in vintage, late ‘90s trance. Even if the background melody is somewhat optimistic however, the track suggests a mechanized destruction with its relentless synthesizer work and ends on a rather desolate note.
Though there are many artists today who attempt to replicate the sound of ‘80s synthpop in one way or another, very few seem to be doing it as well as Perturbator. It’s easy to point out that much of Dangerous Days relies on a rather basic song formula that utilizes a veritable ton of synthesizer arpeggios, but even if there is a strong sense of familiarity and repetition on this album, I really enjoyed the overall ambiance and the meticulous attention to detail that’s present. The music heard here serves the desperate futuristic concept extremely well, and a handful of softer and gentler songs pop up at key moments to mix things up and alleviate a sense of boredom. Admittedly, one of the things that most attracted me to Perturbator back in 2012 was his album artwork, and he’s commissioned another gorgeous and stunning work by Ariel Zucker-Brull for use on Dangerous Days. Since this album is mostly instrumental with tracks that are relatively similar to one another, it may not blow away all listeners, but I’d still call it an absolute winner.
8.5 / 10
James Kent, known as Perturbator, has been meticulously constructing whole worlds with his dark synthwave music, one album at a time. His love of cyberpunk concepts has been the driving ...
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