Review Summary: Lustful Sacraments will cast a very long shadow, indeed.
This review came from a weird place, one I want to share with you because I believe that story will tell you more about the music than any review could. I was on a tear watching interviews of director Nicholas Winding Refn, debatably brilliant, probably pretentious, but unquestionably the consummate auteur. Yes, "consummate" is a good word to describe someone who echoes platitudes of his own devising, equal parts brilliant and equal parts bat*** like "the way I work is that I approach everything like pornography" and "art is an act of violence, it's meant to penetrate you". Hearing the madman's ramblings erstwhile intercut between striking scenes of movies that I still can't decide if I love or hate was when I knew I needed a shower. More importantly, I needed to write a review. A review of what? I don't do movies because ＜readers, put your best film critic ridicule in the comments!＞. It must be an album, but what album? Whose album? Obviously the musician who plays Refn, someone so in tune that he could be temp music to any Refn movie. Someone equal parts inspired and exploitative. Sexploitative. Someone who would have the absolute gorm to say with a straight face something like "I always consider violence like bad pornography, you know there's nothing worse than bad pornography." and the brass balls to expose his sham career in a single stroke. "I used to make movies[...]one critic called them European. I thought they were ***." Who can walk that fine line between European and ***, between profundity and pornography―worse, bad pornography?
Of course, who other than the salacious sexualizer, PERTURBATOR? If you've seen a Refn flick and heard a PERTURBATOR LP―and if not I weep for the feast your senses have missed―you've no doubt pictured one on top of the other. It's inevitable. Even as I'm now writing this I can hear echoes of "Death of the Soul" in uncanny resemblance to the fight scene in Only God Forgives
. This is well past chocolate and peanut butter. And what a stroke of luck that Lustful Sacraments
should just so happen to be released! Truly serendipity. The difference, and the unfortunate thing (for my comparison, not the listener) is that whereas Refn has gradually retreated into the vagaries of self-indulgence, PERTURBATOR has really done just the opposite, emerging from a very indulgent, very European
genre to become something more than ***.
I've always held that PERTURBATOR will be one of the few synthwave artists to really outlive the genre. He's good, obviously, really good, but it's more than that. The difference is that whereas his contemporaries have taken the lash and restraints of the genre as orthodox―even sacrosanct, PERTURBATOR's rejected and rebelled against this submissive position, something which I think is evident from looking at the progression of his work. There are two legs to this horse. First, look at the rate of spoken audio samples. Audio samples, particularly of the spoken variety have long been a crutch that hacks use in their music as a creativity substitute in the aural equivalent of telling, rather than showing. I should clarify this doesn't typically apply to preludes and finales which almost always exist outside the music, yet even there PERTURBATOR's mellowed. This leads to the second leg.
Most synthwave artists, like most directors, seem afraid to show. They mistake austerity for minimalism and paint a canvas washed out and colorless. PERTURBATOR had this problem early on when he was still shaking his fetters, but listening to his chronology glimmers of color are audible as early as his Nocturne
EP. "Dangerous Days"―the track, perhaps also the LP―is arguably the first time he truly comes into his own. Find a peaceful room and put on your best pair of cans. Turn the volume up a little too high, close your eyes, and play some synthwave. Then listen to "Dangerous Days" and note the difference of depth. The richness of layers, the subtle changes to each refrain, the texture of it all. The difference is, fittingly enough, night and day. Even with the genre's 800lb gorillas it's still evident. Just compare Mega Drive's "I Am the Program" to PERTURBATOR's cover. Like Refn, PERTURBATOR has learned to take a dead and empty canvas, and paint it lurid with color. Unlike Refn, PERTURBATOR had the good sense to choose a medium in which rich aesthetics are the highest good, and a genre where they're perhaps the only good. The sex, drugs, and synth can't hurt either.
It should come as no surprise that Lustful Sacraments
continues this trend. The album feels so individual that I'm hesitant to even call it a synthwave album, but I can say with absolute certainty that it's a PERTURBATOR album. Indeed, that should be the first descriptor used. Of course, that's not enough. What's really interesting is the gradual shift over the course of the LP. While saturated with atmosphere from the first moment―it is PERTURBATOR after all―it feels like it starts much different than it ends. It begins like the logical progression from the Dead Astronauts first half of B-Sides and Remixes - Vol I
, hits its underture around "Death of the Soul", and from there transitions into the other half of the woefully short New Model
we've been waiting so long for.
That second half is where the mood becomes palpable. I said before that the LP's saturated with atmosphere, but here it becomes stifling. Any other potential is choked out by the mood. If you've come to Lustful Sacraments
looking for another "Future Club" or "Neo Tokyo", you'll be left disappointed. That just doesn't seem to be what PERTURBATOR's in for anymore. His gig is now officially writing the soundtrack to the cyberpunk dystopia that Intel and Google sold us, and you know what? That's good. I endorse it. I'm a little sad that I may not ever hear another "Death Squad" and I imagine many listeners might feel jilted that they were seemingly sold a bill of goods in The Uncanny Valley
, but Lustful Sacraments
is so deep, so real and imposing and there
that I can't bring myself to feel bitter. Not even a little. Did I mention it's good?
That's perhaps the one point of irony. For an album with "lustful" in the name, Lustful Sacraments
feels remarkably sexless. The whole thing is too busy wallowing in menace to allow itself the chance any lewd fun. I guarantee anyone putting on Lustful Sacraments
in hopes of getting laid will be lucky to go to bed with anything other than a Nexus 6. And you know what? Maybe that's not so bad. I mean it is, it absolutely is, but let's not dwell on the reality. Let's consider this Refn gem instead: "I like fight movies because the fist is like a very sexual organ. It's like a combination of sex and violence." I don't know how much PERTURBATOR sees left in sex or violence, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that as long as him and crazy auteurs like Refn are out there painting these lusty images better than real life, maybe we're ready for this brave new world after all.