The origins of Los Angeles-based band Provoker come straight out of the movies. Founder Jonathan Lopez originally began the project as a venue to explore composing film scores and first met vocalist Christian Petty at a horror screening. Informed by these roots, the two have melded post-punk, R&B, and vintage-horror influences into their debut full-length release, Body Jumper.
Many of the songs on Body Jumper do sound cinematic — the heavy synths and distorted guitars could soundtrack a nihilistic genre-ode like Donnie Darko. Meanwhile, the music video for “Rose in a Glass” follows the wanderings of an explicit proxy for Freddy Krueger. Body Jumper is far from a nostalgia vehicle, however. Provoker mix their new-wave guitars with deliciously moody, self-effacing pop vocals, creating a 1980s-influenced sound that also evokes more modern acts like Fat White Family or the band’s YEAR0001 label-mates Bladee and Yung Lean. This is an album prime for a pop-culture landscape that made Army of Lovers and Eyedress go viral on TikTok — from Stranger Things to Fear Street, vintage slashers and eldritch horrors are decidedly in. Provoker deal in these aesthetics in spades.
Within this eclectic mix of pop and melancholia, Provoker tie in cultural cues while avoiding fanboy gimmickry. True to its title, Body Jumper tells a different character’s story on each song, a narrative cast to rival that of the best Dungeon Masters. “Rose in a Glass” draws from the pop-punk stylings of 2000s radio to follow a detective who’s desperately trying to track down a missing person. Meanwhile, “Spell Strike” takes the classic formula of a love song and uses it to tell a story about an RPG character who encounters “an evil fairy boss”. Like the titles of “NPC” and “Spawn Kill”, some references are a little more obvious, but the emotional core remains consistent. Although the songs deal in genre-based epics, their narratives are just as applicable to everyday heartbreak and despair.
The band notes that “rumination can be the best feeling in the world”, a sentiment that’s clear across the emotional conflicts at the heart of Body Jumper. The music video for “Spell Strike” mixes Trainspotting’s imagery and color scheme with the grainy, computerized visuals of a single-player horror game, a version of Silent Hill where the primary character races to escape a menacing figure that could represent his own shadow. It’s not all baleful self-loathing, however. Album opener “Vehicle Dissolve” uses vintage video game sound effects to craft a technocentric love song, rich with tongue-in-cheek double entendres that get to a sincere heart of wanting to improve a relationship and oneself. “I just want you to acknowledge me,” Petty confesses before a desperate repeating mantra of “clean the mind”.
It’s perhaps where Provoker get weirdest that they shine the brightest on Body Jumper, dealing in these tense dualities of love and desperation and innocence and experience. In a minute-long audio sample on the second half of Kafka-influenced “Bugs and Humans”, a man details the gory murder of a friend that took place on a playground. “Hey, how you doing,” he chuckles to a child who passes by, dispassionately noting the irony. “I found my friend Sam’s head here in ‘86.” The kid’s cry of “cool!” touches on the tension at the heart of the song: we can forgive him for reacting so enthusiastically because he doesn’t understand death, but of course, the traumatized man telling this story so close to where children are playing doesn’t either.
There’s a secondary twist at play in addition to Body Jumper’s series of epic character studies, namely that each persona the album follows is also a construct belonging to a singular narrator who’s descended into a series of fictional worlds to escape his own. This extra layer to the album’s mythology is a bit heady. But it reveals one of Body Jumper’s primary themes — namely, the limits of all that glorious rumination and pop-culture escapism. As Petty notes, “[the character] can jump around into a bunch of different lives, but throughout this experience, he has to deal with the same problems that he was dealing with before.”
The lesson that Body Jumper’s narrator needs to learn applies to all of us in the real world, too. “You can’t really run away from things,” explains Petty. “You have to face them and analyze your behavior to figure out why these patterns keep showing up.” What results is a refreshing take on post-punk and R&B traditions. It signals Provoker as a band to keep an eye on while their career grows and expands.