If you regularly played video games or watch horror movies of the right type, you know there’s never one form for a boss monster. They always come back at least once, transformed by the sting of defeat and/or physical pain, faster, scarier, stronger, more pissed off. This is, of course, often a metaphor for our own fears and pitfalls and how they only seem to increase when confronted. If only the hero can persevere then they shall be defeated but it’s never a matter of a single victory; defeating the largest of our fears is always about dedication and growth, the hero changing and adapting as the villain does. Such is the case with music as well. Those who stay put, die, consigned to the bin of history, the discard pile of those who were too set in their ways and unwilling to grow.
Those who can adapt are the quintessential hero, rising above the challenges to stay supreme and powerful. In the menagerie of synth and retrowave we have access to these days, who better to embody the figure of the 80’s hero, shirt torn and muddied, face filled with cuts but eyes still burning with passion, with dedication for the fight, than Carpenter Brut? He is the demon of the night, wielding dirty synth tones and killer beats in a constant effort to keep the listeners of the genre fixed on his sounds, a constant effort to defeat the staleness that creeps at the edges of the genre. And so he did with 2015’s Trilogy, a fresh and excellent take on the milieu of synth, retro and even dark wave. But can he keep adapting? As the villain of mediocrity and repetition rears itself constantly above the Neo-Tokyo that are the electronic genres today, will Carpenter Brut rise to the challenge and attack with a new approach or stick to his guns and begin fading away?
The answer is absolutely the latter and the embattled citizens of the cyber Neo-Tokyo rejoice. Leather Teeth, his 2018 release, is a whole new approach to the Carpenter Brut sound that nonetheless manages to stay cohesive and powerful. Veering away from the trashy horror film vibe of his previous release, with the sinister hooks and fuzzy synth tones it entails, Brut turns on Leather Teeth to the brighter but no less trashy trappings of slasher flicks, now enshrined in countless parodies. As a result, numerous new ideas are added into his base sound; “Sunday Lunch” for example opens with nothing else than a vaporwave influenced intro, sleek saxophone playing over prominent bass and cheesy, wonderful guitar. The track then turns to something more Carpenter Brut oriented but retains the upbeat, retro vibe of the opening. This creates a not-as-dark taste for the music which blends excellently with Carpenter’s sound and tone selection.
Most of the tracks on the album are a bit less out there, producing the electronic staple that we’ve gotten used to from Brut. The emphasis is always on the beat, on a chugging along groove that informs the rest of the instruments on where to be and how to behave. This means that most of this album, where Trilogy might have been a bit too “thick” and redundantat points, is incredibly lean. What doesn’t need to exist simply doesn’t; Leather Teeth knows what it’s doing and thus, amidst Brut’s tweaking of his core sound, it’s also an incredibly reliable album which can be consumed as something good to listen to while driving as well as an album that stands up to scrutiny and analysis. This is achieved by making sure there are plenty of tracks who are just fun and stand on their own two feet, buoyed up by their groove and dynamics.
Elsewhere, the influences from darkwave are even more pronounced than before. On the preceding track, “Cheerleader Effect”, Brut recruits none other than Ulver‘s Garm (Kristoffer Rygg), who stands today as one of the best vocalists in darkwave following Ulver’s foray into the genre with The Assassination of Julius Caesar, their last release. This turns “Cheerleader Effect” into a heady marriage of Brut’s sound and Rygg’s unique timbre; it evokes both danceability and the cool frigid landscapes of Ulver’s experimentation. Later on the album, on “Beware the Beast”, the soundtrack to a movie never made (which is Brut’s calling card at this point) introduces a different take on darkwave, channeling the aspects of late 80’s rock which were influenced by it. The guest vocalist, one Mat McNerney (of Hexvessel) exhibits a powerful voice, reminiscent of none other than Meatloaf. Blending with the prominent guitars, he creates one of the most infectiously danceable tracks on the album, a lightning bolt which strikes right down at the soles of your feet and gets them to move.
There are so many other moments that prove that Carpenter Brut took a good hard look at this work on Trilogy and realized that the game needs mixing up. There’s enough here to recognize his work; no one does that dirty synth sound quite like him (although you’d do well to check out SurgeryHead if you want some more of that good, dark, synthwave) and it is instantly recognizable. But the overall feel on Leather Teeth, the countless new inspirations, the overall direction, the presence of dominant vocalists, all point towards a process that Brut went through between albums and it’s a good thing he did. Leather Teeth is his answer to those who might have thought he was just another synthwave one hit wonder. He is not; he is the Mad Max of synthwave, the hero who won’t let go and will never give up. Witness him.
Leather Teeth was released on February 22nd and I better see you dancing to it as soon as possible. Grab it from the Bandcamp link above.