The popularity of synthwave has skyrocketed in the last decade, with films like Drive and games like Hotline Miami bringing a genre once thought lost to the ’80s back into the zeitgeist. It’s only gotten more popular since those formative pieces of media, and these days there’s an almost endless number of bands, groups, DJs, and whatever else you want to call the people that make synthwave music. I love it. It’s become possibly my favorite genre, and a big reason for that is because of Carpenter Brut.
Carpenter Brut makes music that’s described as movie soundtracks for unmade films. There tends to be a real epic quality to their music, which leans towards the heavier side of the synthwave spectrum. With their outlandish titles and insanely great layering of sounds, it’s easy to make a short film in your head while listening to any given song of theirs. Today, I’d like to look at the ten best songs by them.
This is A Perfect Ten for Carpenter Brut.
“Escape from Midwich Valley”
This is the opening track off of CB’s debut album Trilogy, so it seems fitting that we start of the Perfect Ten with it. Unlike a lot of other songs by them, “Escape from Midwich Valley” tells a coherent story when you watch the music video that accompanies it. It’s essentially a rough adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” but with a song that almost turns it into a miniature rock opera.
The song opens with a nice, slow beat, and guitar that’s used to set a creepy mood. As it goes on, more parts of the song come in, leading to this sense of foreboding and unease in the listener, before exploding into an all-out dubstep-styled bass drop that coincides with the moment in the short film that things go south. Its length is intimidating, but the musical payoff is well worth it. It’s tough to convey a sense of mood or tone solely through music, let alone tell a story, but “Escape from Midwich Valley” succeeds with flying colors.
One of two songs on this list that was featured in Hotline Miami 2, “Le Perv” is much slower than a lot of other songs in Carpenter Brut’s repertoire. But that slow pace soon gives way to a wonderfully spooky back beat that gives the whole thing a sense of desperation. It almost sounds like someone going crazy, with it building more and more to a wonderful climax.
“Le Perv” also appeared in the 2014 horror comedy The Editor, although unlike Hotline Miami 2, it was used to much more comical effect; it’s placed over a scene that’s nothing but a bunch of women in an aerobics class humping the air, which is a direct reference to a movie called Death Spa. It loses none of its amazing buildup even in a funny context, though.
The title of this song immediately brings all kinds of images to my mind, mainly extremely violent robots going to town on unsuspecting humans, Terminator style. It’s pure energy right out of the gate; after a brief introduction that sets the mood, it launches right into its fast paced beats and lovely synth. For a song with killer in the title, it more than does the job in making the viewer think of a bloodthirsty freak let loose.
The funny thing is, though, that the music video is actually a short prequel to the awesome Shudder exclusive Blood Machines, which is a sci-fi rock opera the likes of which you’ve never seen. It’s great.
“Beware the Beast”
The first (but hardly the last) collaborative song on this list, Mat McNerney lends his vocals to the most overtly ’80s style Carpenter Brut song. “Beware the Beast” is an absolute blast from beginning to end, flirting with the Satanic goofiness of the ’80s in a song about giving in to one’s carnal desires. McNerney’s voice is perfect for capturing the hair metal feeling the song is going for, with a sound that is dated, but in a really charming way.
Nothing about the song, from its lyrics that would only make the most repressed Catholic blush, to the over the top music video that uses original footage spliced with clips from old slashers, is meant to be taken seriously. It’s the Carpenter Brut equivalent of sex, drugs, and rock n roll, and it’s a nice refresher from some of CB’s heavier stuff.
“Sexkiller on the Loose”
Speaking of channeling the ’80s, “Sexkiller on the Loose” is pure slasher shlock in musical form. It wastes no time getting to the good stuff, with an opening that sees Carpenter Brut lay it on thick as can be. The pace is relentless, with a beat that’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fast, and this makes it perhaps the most outwardly frantic Carpenter Brut song.
If all of their songs are meant to be soundtracks to movies that never existed, I would imagine “Sexkiller on the Loose” would be plopped right in the middle of an incredibly sleazy exploitation film, possibly one directed by Lucio Fulci. It has a devil-may-care attitude to it, and much like exploitation films, it doesn’t very much care what you think. It’s fast, it’s wild, and it’s awesome.
One of the premiere tracks off of Carpenter Brut’s most recent (and incredible) album Leather Terror, “Widow Maker” is another one of their songs that tells a story with lyrics sung by Gunship. The Widow Maker (played by Dylan Sprouse in the music video) is relentless in his pursuit of prey, and the song reflects this. It’s borderline sexual in how it describes this character, with the repetition of the line “choose the pill” telling you that this isn’t for the faint hearted.
But that’s just fine. Carpenter Brut’s particular brand of aggressive synthwave may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it is hypnotic and wonderful to those who enjoy it. “Widow Maker” is sort of their whole persona summed up in one song; unapologetic in what it is, and a real hoot.
The opening track from CB’s EP of the same name, “Leather Teeth” is, I imagine, a song that most people would hear and immediately add a little more swagger to their walk. It’s on the slower side, but the very deliberate beat is easy to be swept up in, which makes the later parts that utilize a synthesized chorus feel all the more impactful. It’s absolutely classic Carpenter Brut, and it’s a fantastic opener to the EP.
You can almost hear the credits to a movie playing while the beat pulses and builds to a cathartic finale. Maybe the credits include a violent murder or two just for good measure. It’s grand in scale and all the better for it.
An uncommonly emotional song for Carpenter Brut, “Imaginary Fire’s” lyrics (sung wonderfully by Greg Puciato) call to mind a dysfunctional relationship of some sort. The music video, meanwhile, uses simply apocalyptic imagery to enhance the mood of the guitar and synthesizer. Of all of CB’s songs, this one might be the most overtly metal in both style and influence.
This is the second of many collaborative songs off of Leather Terror, and for me it’s a highlight of the album. It’s heavy, weirdly sad, and unforgettable. It’s nearly impossible for me not to get swept up in the mood it creates.
“Hang ‘em All”
This song was used prominently in the marketing for the final season of Samurai Jack, and it’s not difficult to see why. The opening is simply beautiful, using only one layer of synthesizer to set an eerie, unnerving tone before bringing in the beat and other layers that create this mood of someone desperately fighting for their life. To me, this song brings to mind a “one versus many” scene. Maybe someone who is on the run from the law having no choice but to fight back.
There are distinct phases as the song goes on, though, and it builds to a climax that is both breathtaking and cathartic. Most of CB’s songs build to a grand finale, but “Hang ‘em All” succeeds better than most due to the way it balances its layers of sound and how it’s unafraid to go quiet before going all out. It’s arguably Carpenter Brut’s best song, although I would argue that there’s one more that’s even better.
I’ll fully admit that it’s impossible for me to separate my love of this song with its use in Hotline Miami 2. In the game, it’s used for the final level of The Fans’ story arc; the group of masked killers all break in to a sky scraper filled with Russian mobsters with the goal of taking down the leader of the Russian mob, and the slow introduction of the song is used to complete perfection. The opening, which sounds like wind howling through an empty space, is used during the expository scenes where The Fans decide to split up.
Then the bass drops right as the action starts, and the over the top violence of Hotline Miami 2 becomes perfectly in sync with the insane kinetic energy of “Roller Mobster.” If ever there was a song that could be described as violence in auditory form, this is it. All of the feelings it conjures are ones of desperation, action, and futility. It is everything that makes Carpenter Brut so great; aggressive, bloodthirsty, in your face, and hypnotic. Even ignoring its use in Hotline Miami 2, it is an insanely energetic and unforgettable song.
Carpenter Brut is at the forefront of the synthwave genre, and I hope these songs have shown you why. There’s a certain hypnotic and almost primal quality to them that you don’t find in a lot of other music, and the musical world is better for it.