After a three-year hiatus, Carpenter Brut has returned to the darksynth genre he helped pioneer with an offering guaranteed to entice fans of past releases. However, the excitement is cut short by Leather Teeth’s repetitive songwriting, campy guest vocals, and mutilated attempts at integrating metal music. On the heels of a wave of immensely talented new darksynth creators, Carpenter Brut’s latest offering feels subpar instead of superlative, and there is little worthwhile content to glean from its patchwork of disconnected musical ideas. As with several other recent releases from synthwave‘s and darksynth’s early innovators, Leather Teeth would barely be a blip on the release radar if it didn’t have a celebrated name on the cover.
The recording kicks off in classic darksynth style, and many fans will be surprised to hear the artist hasn’t followed the fork in the road toward experimental rhythmic songwriting alongside Lazerpunk, Perturbator, and Dan Terminus. Instead, the album maintains a logical stylistic evolution of the three EPs on which Carpenter Brut made his name, but with a conspicuous incorporation of pseudo-metal. The production grit — though not necessarily the quality — on Leather Teeth has been stepped up a notch from Trilogy with moderately satisfying results, though there are now bumbling live instruments in the mix, including a chunky and poorly executed electric guitar that crashes its way through much of the recording. Worse, it quickly becomes clear that Carpenter Brut’s songwriting hasn’t progressed in any significant amount in the years he’s been away, leaving the new album feeling outdated.
As part of the generation of Synthwave 1.0 producers, Carpenter Brut’s past releases feel bland by modern standards, and “Leather Teeth” shows only baby steps toward a more rewarding listening experience. This becomes apparent on the title track, which presents a single musical idea with minimal deviation for its running length. Although the composition builds nicely for the first minute and enters a short break near the midpoint, it proceeds to beat its head against the wall in a repetitious grind for most of its back half. The genuinely exciting sounds of the opening moments consequently lose their flavor like cheap bubblegum, and the song arrives at its finish with an exhausted and awkwardly abrupt conclusion.
“Cheerleader Effect” arrives next with a surprising vocal performance from Kristoffer Rygg. Although technically safe and sound, the vocal delivery has a campiness to it that will turn heads on its first playthrough, for better and worse. The song is like a seedy, cigarette-stained grindhouse theater showing a triple matinee for a dollar. It’s enjoyable in spite of its goofy, low-rent personality, and the genre-defying vocals are at least notable for their uniqueness. A late break creates some welcome variety, and Carpenter Brut appropriately cuts the song length short before the music can wear out its welcome. The end result is better than listenable, but it couldn’t be described as particularly exciting.
“Sunday Lunch” follows in the form of a funk-driven, full-length interlude and apparent nod to ‘70s porn soundtracks, packed with cheesy synth melodies and sax solos. It’s a satisfying piece of musical fluff that happily defies the seriousness of most darksynth creations with its sense of humor. However, the oddity of the song in relation to the first two tracks — themselves somewhat incongruent — makes it a questionable addition to the album. Unfortunately, the developing pattern of conceptual schizophrenia shifts from striking to gut-wrenching when the light tone of “Sunday Lunch” crashes into the murky disaster that is “Monday Hunt.”
Despite the increasingly prominent and well-executed inclusion of metal elements into synthwave and darksynth from artists like Neon Droid, Shredder 1984, and Gloom Influx, few creators aside from Dance with the Dead have attempted a full fusion of the genres. Carpenter Brut admirably tackles the challenge headfirst with “Monday Hunt,” though the amateurish execution causes the experiment to backfire. Inept magma (aka nu metal) riffs pollute the song while sloppy drum fills bounce around in a cacophonous disregard for the long and cherished musical tradition of rhythm. The song’s technical delivery is glaringly low by the standards of almost any metal subgenre, and the ugly contrast of the band’s guitar and synthesizer tones causes them to swirl together into a muddy consistency that is the exact musical equivalent of mixing complementary colors. In comparison with the many successful incorporations of metal from Carpenter Brut’s contemporaries, “Monday Hunt” is an illegitimate child that darksynth and metal would both be better off disowning.
Mercifully, “Inferno Galore” steps in as a reprieve from the shame of “Monday Hunt” with perhaps the most likable rhythm and melody of anything on the album. Regrettably, the track also features the simplest song structure on Leather Teeth. The repetition soon wears out whatever redeeming qualities the music held at its outset, and it’s difficult to survive the monotony for the less-than-four-minute running time.
Another vocal track arrives on “Beware the Beast,” this time with Mat McNerney on the mic. If “Cheerleader Effect” is a slice of cheddar cheese, “Beware the Beast” is a block of Velveeta melted into an economy-size can of nacho dip poured over cheese sticks in the back of a double-wide trailer. The song dials its camp way past 11 in a trashy parallel to David Hasselhoff’s performance on “True Survivor,” albeit with even less technical skill and melodic appeal. Beneath the lamentable vocal track is another one of Carpenter Brut’s hack fusion attempts, this time with more of a contemporary hard rock vibe, once again churning out musical mud for the song’s entirety. It’s easily the least appealing entry on the album and one of the most cringeworthy efforts from an established artist in the broader synthwave genre to date.
“Hairspray Hurricane” helps the album recover as best it can, employing an attractive darksynth rhythm and gleaming melody with mostly favorable results. However, the chunky electric guitar continues to tarnish the music with its bullish execution and murky sound production. A break at the midpoint drops the song into agreeable, bluesy guitar licks followed by ambient horror synth tones for a valuable bit of compositional variety, though it’s not enough to lift “Hairspray Hurricane” much above mediocrity. Despite the song’s likable tone, a listener would be hard pressed to recall anything significant about the piece once it reaches its conclusion.
The final entry, “End Titles” turns out to be the strongest offering on the recording. More funk elements arrive in the early going with relatively clean guitar tones pairing nicely with chime-like synth melodies. A gentle, rolling pace defines the first act, after which the bottom drops out of the song and Carpenter Brut casually toys with gentle melodic tones in a protracted interlude. When the music abruptly leaps into a roaring, bouncy new section with gleaming synth leads, it delivers what is likely the album’s most rewarding moment. However, the strength of the song is too little too late to save Leather Teeth.
Carpenter Brut’s latest effort is, at least partly by design, the equivalent of a self-aware B movie. It’s deliberately campy yet also inadvertently awkward, sloppily made, and difficult to enjoy without an ironic sense of humor. Production values are low, the instrumentation is murky, and many of the songwriting choices feel like they were conceived in a fever dream. The attempts at integrating metal music were apparently executed by drunken musicians, and the song selection, though commendably diverse, leans closer to schizophrenia than musical artistry. A pair of odd vocal tracks give the recording a kitschy, lowbrow personality, and the frequently straightforward song structures generate little incentive to hear even the most likable entries to their finish.
In a lamentable indication of the state of synthwave and related genres in 2018, Leather Teeth’s success with fans was guaranteed before Carpenter Brut wrote a single note for it. The undeniable significance of the artist’s contributions to early darksynth has earned him a diehard following that will consume any offering without question, and Leather Teeth is a bold testament to the loyalty of those fans. This is Carpenter Brut’s Load, and it will thrive on the artist’s name recognition alone. That’s fortunate for everyone involved with the recording, because it’s the best thing it has going for it. In contrast with exceptional new darksynth creations from artists like Fixions, Shredder 1984, Neon Droid, and Isidor, the music on Leather Teeth is irreverent and frequently inconsequential, poking fun at itself in a self-conscious attempt to disguise its lack of technical skill and meaningful content. There are far worse darksynth albums in the world, but few have a more recognizable name on their cover.
The Album: Bandcamp
Support Iron Skullet on Patreon for more reviews and articles on synthwave.