String Theory is the debut record from the Phoenix-based perkXsoundlabs, aka Paul Roland Perkes. Perkes’ musical background goes back a few decades now, with his dabbling in electronic/a dating back to the early eighties, a wellspring that one can imagine as bubbling through onto the sixteen tracks comprising Perkes’ initial solo offering. String Theory is rife with a slew of classic and modern electronic motifs, cleaving both to now classic early electro-adventurism ala early genre pioneers such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, as well as more recent trance and house tangents that percolate through the Perkes’ musical Petri dishes. Couple these sonic excursions with the generally scientifically-centered look and feel and the heady rather than booty-shaking aspects of String Theory’s contents, and one arrives at a destination point that is both retro and current, while managing to maintain a consistently idiosyncratic voice throughout.
Perkes’ concoctions on String Theory definitely have the rub of some dance party at the end of the quantum microverse. As previously stated, String Theory’s constituent parts often contain the airy, contemplative, and explorative elements enshrined in much classic Kraut man-machine manipulation, and as such the offerings here are sufficiently retro so as to warrant the comparison and sufficiently heady so as to differentiate them from so much blather-headed club detritus that has followed in the genre’s wake. Beats are often unassuming and understated, the back-melodies are spacey, and the keys and synths float prominently above the main lines in lab-coated attack formations that sound akin to Kraftwerk and Dr. Who performing the soundtrack for a Nova series covering deep-space exploration. Some of Perkes’ constructions could be said to contain an aesthetic perhaps inspired by the artist’s Arizona upbringing and locale, as many of String Theory’s tracks seem to try and inspire a type of cosmic bent that would appear markedly apt both careening across the surface of dead planets somewhere out in hyper-space or else maybe hurtling down the 93 somewhere north of Kingman, AZ (and where your reviewer is currently hurtling as he is writing this).
Still, it should be said that a valid criticism of Perkes’ work may be similar to some of that leveled at the early electro pioneers, in that tracks can be at times overly simplistic or dated-sounding to the unversed ear, and some may take certain of String Theory’s tracks to perhaps lack a certain modern outlook, club-compatibility, or otherwise. There’s also a heavy tendency here to lean a little too hard on the synthesizer and keyboard lines, when more negative and ambient space could go a long way to add depth and diversity. Of course, one could also counter-argue that with so much electro-offal that passes as “music”, given the modern proliferation of color-by-numbers synthesizers and easy-bake home recording equipment, anything that attempts to carve out its own inner space without leaning on tired and conventional beat-isms is worthy of something akin to renown. And String Theory manages that well, as the album is nothing if not dancing to its own personal muse.
Of String Theory’s sixteen tracks, themes such as those discussed above tend to crop up over and over again, though some tracks tend to stand out over others. “The Strong Force” is vacuum-sealed with some cool deep bass interspersed across it; “Supersymmetry” is an album stand-out, and features interlocking pieces that combine to form a meandering soliloquy with a strong eighties/retro feel that channels Kraftwerk without aping them and moves well. “Spacetime” is upbeat and stellar, while “Tachyon” is racey and replete with a few call and response rhythm hits that get the afterburners going. “Unification” is another album stand-out, all hypnotic and spacey, “Quantum Mechanics” is slightly more aggressive and enjoyable all-around, and “Causality” is nicely off-kilter and diverse.
In all, String Theory is an interesting listen by a musician taking from time-tested source material. As stated in his bio, Perkes’ debut album has been thirty years in the making. Maybe it won’t be so long until the next one.
Review by Reed Burnam
Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5)