Ah yes, the concept album. In a time of singles, streaming and short attention spans, the concept album is a rare testament to an artist’s (in this case Provoker) talent. Not only does it have to be good, but the theme must flow from start to finish unless it becomes muddied—or worse—boring. It’s a rough task and the music world is littered with half-baked attempts.
Then there are bands like the previously mentioned Provoker, who return to their old hometown venue, The Ritz, on Feb. 13. This darkwave post-punk dives head-first into the concept album with each record its own story. Each release is its own fictional world based through their own lens of emotions with each track a self-contained tale and also a different chapter of the greater storyline.
“When I’m writing a song I try to make it a story,” explains singer Christian Petty.
“A lot of our songs are fictional stories that can be concepts for a movie or whatever. That’s what we’re really inspired by—movies and videogames—and that comes out in the lyrics.”
Case in point, when we last checked in with Provoker, they’d just released their debut full-length, Body Jumper.
As the name states, the 13 track sci-fi noir focuses on the idea of using people as avatars, a consciousness jumping from body to body. One song is about being a detective on the case for a missing woman, while the next track—“Spell Strike”—jumps to a first-person perspective from an RPG protagonist fighting a fairy boss loosely inspired by the The Legend of Zelda game series.
When writing and recording material, Provoker is Petty and Jonathon Lopez, the latter of which originally founded the band as a solo project. On the road, the once live four piece became a trio when they split with drummer, Kristian Moreno, over personality differences. Bassist Wil Palacios continues to play live with the band.
While writing their sophomore album, Demon Compass, released last October, Provoker found themselves in the strange space of music Purgatory.
“We wrote [the songs] while waiting for Body Jumper to come out when we were in an in-between stage,” remembers Lopez.
Themes of loss, trusting one’s inner voice and owning up to one’s mistakes are woven throughout Demon Compass. Of course, all thinly veiled behind lyrics of teenage ghoul love, being frozen alive and bugs crawling over a character’s skin while kissing a corpse.
But what ties the album together is the cleverly crafted, choose-your-own-adventure style booklet they’ve included with copies of the physical media. Co-written by Lopez, Petty and their friend and San Jose local, Justin K. Louie, the story starts with the reader finding the Demon Compass. According to the intro:
“This occult item will guide you through a bizarre in-between world and help you confront past demons as well as piece together former memories that may lead to closure. Seek a better understanding of who you were, who you’ve loved and how much you’ve lost.”
With each choice the reader (or listener) is taken through multiple strange sagas, sometimes making it through to gain a “memory fragment,” more often meeting some horrible end like devourment or being ripped apart limb by limb. An in-between world for an in-between album where each choice and ending corresponds to the music.
“That was super last minute but it turned out to be kind of the coolest thing about the release,” Lopez explains. “And we wanted to include all the music videos that we did, tied together.”
The booklet includes stills from three music videos they filmed (on actual film to keep Provoker’s retro aesthetic), in Stockholm, Sweden home to their record label, YEAR0001. It makes sense they’d have three videos in the can before the album even dropped considering Provoker was originally started by Lopez to be the soundtrack band for a fictitious movie he made a trailer for during a film class in college.
With Demon Compass only four months old, the band is planning big things in 2024.
Along with the upcoming tour, which has already sold out multiple dates including a sold out record release party in Los Angeles, they just reissued their debut EP, 2018’s Dark Angel, on vinyl for the first time. The guys also have their sights aimed on another of their favorite pastimes.
“We made a game that we’ll probably put out soon,” Lopez says. “We found a developer to help convert that short story into a Playstation 1 style experience.”
400 S. First Street, San Jose
Tues, Feb. 13, 7pm