Blaqk Audio

Howl EP – Night Riots

Release Year: 2015

Rating: 9.5/10

If it wasn’t for Blaqk Audio I wouldn’t know who Night Riots are. The band opened for Blaqk Audio on their recent tour and I fell in love with their catchy songs, fun vibe, and charming vampiric frontman Travis Hawley. Their performance was upbeat, fun, and made you want to dance. Though I already listened to a few of their songs before the concert, I downloaded their EP Howl as soon as I got home. Similar to how I felt after the performance, it left me wanting more. The only thing I could was hit the repeat button.

This is one EP you can’t get enough of. All the songs are awesome and stay with you long after the record ends. The opening track “Oh My Heart” is actually my favorite. It starts with this cool distant chanting that forms the beat of the song. Hawly’s vocals are pretty strong and have an impressive range. From his singing here you can hear all the charisma he exudes on stage. Something about the way he sounds when singing “Two in a crowd – I feel your desire” makes him seem like the mysterious guy in the club you secretly want to hook up with. The entire track is irresistible and introduces listeners to the fun ride they’re about to experience.

The infectious “Contagious” is one of the strongest songs on the EP and shows off the band’s sound the best. It’s a mixture of synth pop, new wave, and alt rock. This track starts with a weird wailing sample that makes you take notice as soon as you hear it. Thanks to Hawley’s low vocals during the verse there’s also a sexy vibe to it. His vocals come alive and vibrant during the hook when he croons “I am contagious/I am breaking down.” The song is a fun mix of rock, synth, and dance music that’s so grabbing you can’t help but move. Again, it’s another one of those tracks that’s so damn good you’ll be singing after one listen.

Unlike the first two songs, “Holsters” isn’t one that instantly grabs you. Its mellow nature has to grow on you, but it won’t take long. With the lighter music and Hawley singing about a seemingly bad break up it has an anthemic quality to it. The bridge, where the uplifting message of “Learn to live again” is shouted over and over, makes you picture people in solidarity pumping their fist in the air singing along. The lyrics seem to have a lot of references to fighting such as being battered and weathered and even the title makes you think of weapon holster. It’s an interesting way to address a break up and trying to remain a strong without being straightforward.

The band let’s their 80’s influence fly high on the energetic and upbeat “Break.” This is another track that begins with odd synth riffs, which sounds like someone stuttering. It’s a bit weird but definitely ear catching. Though it’s another dance-centric song with a strong hook that lodges itself in your head, the music is more reminiscent of 80’s new wave, which makes it more fun. “Shine” differentiates itself a bit with a rapid, thudding beat sounding like it’s on the run. Hawley’s vocal prowess is on display here as he goes from low to high range. It’s hard to describe his voice, but it makes you think of someone sophisticated and classy; like if Lestat fronted a synth pop band. After hearing a few songs you’ll understand how his voice is electrifying, sexy, and exciting.

The closing track “Follow You” is also cool and catchy with its slinky groove, but it’s pretty creepy. The whole song is about following a girl home he doesn’t really know. During the pre-hook, Hawley sings “I will follow you home/’Cause I know where you live/You’ll never be alone/’Cause I know where you live.” That is stalker territory. Even if you’re singing along, it doesn’t take too long to realize something isn’t right. He’s day dreaming and potentially stalking a girl whose picture he saw in the newspaper. He even talks about sneaking around her house and watching her undress in the last verse. That sort of shit is bound to get you arrested. It may be creepy, but you can’t deny how catchy and fun the song is.

Howl is an excellent EP from start to finish. It shows off the fun, upbeat, and energetic nature of the band. This is something you put on when you want to dance or just get yourself in a good mood. Their mix of synth, rock, and pop makes for songs that are catchy and memorable, while Hawley’s vocals standout as being charming and seductive at times. The EP is so good you’ll want to hear it again and won’t be able to hit repeat fast enough. Night Riots are a promising band on the rise and I can’t wait to hear what they’ll do next.

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Material – Blaqk Audio

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8.5/10

Blaqk Audio is the synth and electronic based side project of AFI’s Davey Havok and Jade Puget. Moving away from punk rock, the duo explore lush beats, swirling rhythms, and hard hitting synth. They’re not doing anything completely unique with the genre, but they work with it well. Their debut album, Cexcells, was solid, but their follow up Bright Black Heaven seemed more or less the same. How does their long awaited third release hold up?

With this album Blaqk Audio doesn’t take any risks and sticks with their well worn formula of electronic and sythpop infused songs. This doesn’t necessarily make the album bad, but there’s very little about it that catches your attention the first time you listen to it. That’s because so much of the record sounds familiar or too similar to their past efforts. The dark nature of “Black at the Center” and the way Havok wails “I’m helpless/am I’m freezing” brings up similarities to “Ill-Lit Ships.” The rapid and catchy “First to Love” seems to continue the 80s, New Order vibe found on many of their other songs. And “I’m a Mess” uses the synth/piano format they seem to admire.

Despite this, there are some stand out tracks on the album. One of the best is “Curious Friends,” which starts with cold, futuristic music out of an 8-bit game. Havok sings in a robotic manner giving this feeling of isolation. The song amps up during the ear worm hook of “Does he tell that he loves you/like you do” and turns into more of a dance song. Everything about it is so satisfying it grabs your attention right away. The opening track “Waiting to Be Told” is another highlight. It continues the dark mood of the record with harsh, throbbing electronic beats opening the song. It’s one of the most intense on the album.

To Be Alone” has this great slow build up where the beat pluses and throbs while Havok softly sings. The track comes alive as things get more intense with eerie ambient noises sounding like other worldly moaning. Again, like other songs here it does sound like one of their previous tracks, but it still grabs your attention. “Material” is more of a forgettable song. The music and style is actually reminiscent of New Order’s “Blue Monday” and it’s not the first time their influence pops up on the record. It’s not a bad song, it’ll still get you moving. It’s just buried underneath the stronger tracks.

For some reason Blaqk Audio like having one super upbeat, poppy dance song on their albums and unfortunately, here is no different. Don’t be fooled by the name, “Graphic Violence” is the complete opposite of its brutal sounding title. The whole thing is really bright and sickeningly sugary sweet. It sounds like something that would play on a teen show on Nickelodeon. You picture pink splashes and lots of hearts when you hear it. It is slightly catchy, so it has potential to grow on you, but it sticks out on the album and doesn’t warrant itself for repeated listens.

The album hits a low point towards the end with generic sounding tracks “You Will Hate Me” and “Ceremonial.” On both songs, the mood shifts to upbeat dance music better suited for a Rihanna song. Rather than being stark, dark, and heavy hitting, the music is everything you currently hear on pop radio. Though they can be catchy at times, both of the songs are pretty bland and are filler more than anything. Luckily, the closing track “Anointed” ends the album on a high note. Though it doesn’t stray too far from what we’ve already heard on the album, it does add dirty guitars giving it more of a rock edge than the other tracks. There’s also an air of mystery and sensuality that makes it appealing. It manages to be another stand out track on the record.

With Blaqk Audio Puget and Havok show how versatile they are with music. They easily move out of their comfort zone to play around with something new. The problem is this album, just like their last one, sounds so similar to what they’ve already done. They even address the same themes of love, sex, and loneliness. You don’t expect them to do something so drastic it doesn’t even sound like them. Rather, you’d hope they’d find someway to make the album stand out from their others. Material is still another solid entry in their catalog with more irresistible songs. But since it’s so similar to their other stuff, it may take a few listens for the album to take. Still, it’s great to hear from Blaqk Audio again.

Playlist: Seeing Double

After being with one band for a while, some musicians are itching to do something different. Rather than getting experimental and releasing it under their established outfit, some prefer to form new bands altogether. Most of the time these side bands are not very impressive and very rarely do they outshine the core band. But if done well, a side band can at least separate itself from their well known work. There are tons of these groups out there, but there are only a few that do their best to differentiate themselves from the core band. I know I missed a lot of groups out there (let me know which ones in the comments), but here are some of my favorite songs from these great and interesting side bands.

“Level” – The Racounteurs

Sometimes it feels like Jack White is in a new band every other week. While in the highly successful White Stripes, he recruited Brenden Benson and other musicians to form this rag tag and gritty group. Though the music is still filled with White’s impressive and innovative guitar playing, the overall feel of the band is rougher and harsher than The White Stripes. The music takes on more of a folk rock feel while still incorporating elements of blues and alternative rock. This is one of the best cuts from their debut album. It finds White and Benson sharing vocal duty leaving lots of room for complex guitar solos. The band would go on to release one more album before going on hiatus. Truth be told, we probably won’t see anymore new music from the group considering White’s successful solo career and his work with The Dead Weather.

“Standing There” – The Creatures

Siouxsie and the Banshees were never afraid to play around with their sound, but this side project featuring Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie was spontaneous. You never knew what type of song they were going to do next. As this track shows, the band was also more in tune with their animal nature. A lot of the sounds and images used in their songs made listeners get in touch with their primal instincts. It’s no surprise since Sioux and Budgie were dating at the time. “Standing There” has vibrant horns, giving it a swing feel, and tribal like percussion that booms throughout the track. The catchiness of the chorus and the Latin dancing featured in the video will make you grab a flamenco skirt and clap fiercely with Siouxsie Sioux. The Creatures would go on to release a total of three albums, but this remains one of their best songs.

“When Your Heart Stops Beating” – +44

The nasty “hiatus” of Blink-182 resulted in two bands from founders Mark and Tom: Angels and Airwaves and +44. While Tom’s band was trying to change the world and the face of music, +44 just wanted to rock out. Consisting of Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker, Shane Gallagher, and Craig Fairbaugh, the short lived band released their debut in 2006 with the following song as their lead single. The track is catchy, full of energy, and just puts you in a good mood. It’s not drastically different from what the guys would do in Blink, but it managed to satisfy heartbroken fans. The album did fairly well, but couldn’t match the success of Hoppus’ previous band. It’s a shame because the LP is actually really good filled with irresistible pop punk. They may not have strayed too far from the working formula, but the result was still upbeat and a lot of fun to listen to. Hopefully, there’ll be more music from them in the future.

“I Feel So” – Box Car Racer

This is yet another offshoot of Blink-182. Formed shortly after the release of their fourth album, this band featuring Tom Delonge and Travis Barker went for a heavier sound and drew a lot of influences from punk rock. The album explored dark and serious issues while chugging guitars and lots of distortion played in the background. This single doesn’t featured Delonge’s best writing, but the intense guitars and simple chorus give it a punch. Anyone who listened to this album should not have been surprised when Blink changed their direction for their self titled release. The band was moderately successful, but only released one album. While it was decent it didn’t do much in the alternative rock scene, but it is a lot better than Delonge’s current side band. Some may even say this project began Blink’s downfall since Mark Hoppus was upset he was not part of it.

“Snuff on Digital” – Blaqk Audio

Some side bands have issues making themselves distinct from the core band. This is not the case with Blaqk Audio. Featuring Davey Havok and Jade Puget from punk outfit AFI, this project finds the guys trading in distorted guitars for keyboards. The music here is strictly electronic and synth based with some elements of dark and new wave. Rather than moshing, this music will make you want to dance. Some of it makes you think of the ’80s while others are reminiscent of ’90s techno. Even though it’s a different genre Havok keeps his haunting lyrics in tact. This track is one of the most upbeat and infectious from their debut album Cexcells. Since they released a sophomore LP in 2012 there’s a good chance we’ll hear more music from them in the future.

“Clint Eastwood” – Gorillaz

The Gorillaz are so popular and well known it’s easy to forget they’re an offshoot of Blur. Whereas Blur were the finest example of Britpop, the Gorillaz were all over the place in terms of genre. With elements of hip-hop, pop, electronic, funk, and soul it’s hard to pin them down. Their debut single named after the iconic actor remains one of their best songs. Though Del the Funky Homosapien laid down the rhymes, Damn Albarn’s cryptic singing during lines like “I’ve got sunshine/in a bag” are the most memorable.

“Kamikaze” – Plastic Visions

This band features Brad Shultz of Cage the Elephant and his cousin Kane Stewart; truly a family affair. Cage the Elephant are known for their brash, wild sound and some of that is present on this project. What makes it different is the fusion of punk, noise rock, and surf rock to create their fuzzy, rough sound. This track is the first off their EP and features unchained vocals (similar to Matt Shultz) and scratchy guitars that sound like static. The short, punchy songs are full of energy with this track being one of their finest. Though they’ve only started, hopefully we can expect a full length album from them in the near future.

“Spike” – The Network

When Billie, Mike, and Tre aren’t running around with Green Day they have several musical projects to turn to. One of them is the weird, punk, and electro inspired band The Network. Though the guys tried their best to say they weren’t in the band it’s hard to deny once you hear Billie’s distinct vocals. Rather than their stadium pop-punk, the guys go new wave with lots of synth and odd songs involving lots of sex and drugs. This is one of the best songs from their sole album because it maps out the sad and humorous journey of a junkie trying to score. The track is interesting because there’s very little singing involved. It’s pretty much Spike having a phone conversation with the occasional “I need a fix” for the chorus. It’s a cool idea that the band manages to pull off. Also, I love the way Billie says “La Jolla.” Guess that’s my inner fangirl coming out.

“Punish Me with Kisses” – The Glove

This project is the brainchild of The Cure’s Robert Smith and Steve Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees. Surprisingly, it features Jeanette Landray, not Smith,  on vocals. At the time, Smith said it was because he wanted more of a background position, but many speculate it was intervention from the label. Still, it’s easy to tell Smith is involved with the project. Though the band managed to get more bluesy and trippy at times, the flourishing keys and dreamy lyrics all sound so similar to The Cure. The frontman even did vocals for the entire album, but they can only be found on the re-release of their album. Landray does a decent job, but Smith’s vocals are the best.

“At Your Funeral” – Pinhead Gunpowder

This band originally formed in the early ’90s and features both Billie Joe Armstrong and Jason White. Though they’ve been around for a while, since two of the members are in Green Day they’ve released very few albums. Unlike their other side projects, this one has a very brash, classic punk rock sound mixed with raw garage rock. Still, it’s hard to miss Billie’s distinct vocals, especially since he gives everything a melodic tone. This track is a personal favorite. It’s rude, snotty, and cynical like so many of Green Day’s best songs. It may be short, but it’s to the point. You can’t miss the snarl as Armstrong sings “At your funeral/Things will be different/I will feel so good.” If you want to get into the band, then this is the best song to start with.

“38” – Revolting Cocks

Featuring Al Jourgensen, Richard 23, and Luc Van Acker, plus a long list of revolving players, this industrial band shares many similarities with Jourgensen’s band Ministry. The above song sounds like something from the band’s earlier efforts. They don’t shy away from the industrial genre, but they also delves into alternative and metal with a hint of psychedelia. Whereas as Ministry was a serious outfit touching on political issues, RC is more self aware and includes a lot of humor and risque topics in their songs. This track is from their debut Big Sexy Land and sports more attitude and less parody than their later material.

“Outsider” – A Perfect Circle

I’ve always preferred this group over the core band Tool. While there are some similarities between the two, this outfit focuses more on alternative and prog rock along with psychedelic influences for an ethereal and haunting sound. Instead of bringing on a heavy mood Maynard Keenan and co keep things on the mellow side, though as this song show things can get intense. While they’ve done some amazing covers of “Imagine” and “Let’s Have a War,” this single shows off their blended sound and will be the most appealing to Tool fans.

“Lies of the Beautiful People” – Sixx AM

While Niki Sixx will always be known for his work in Motley Crue, he has a successful career with his band Sixx AM. With a heavier sound and more thoughtful lyrics than the Crue ever had, Sixx AM deals with issues of beauty, drugs, and addiction. A lot of the material stems from Sixx’s past as a heroine addict. Their debut album was even named after his autobiography The Heroin Diaries. “Lies of the Beautiful People” features the guitarist’s signature riffs and fiery playing style, paired with James Michael the strong and passionate vocals. Talking about the obsession with beauty, the video is a gruesome look at what some will do to meet society’s standards.

“Stop Drop and Roll!!!” – Foxboro Hot Tubs

Yet another side project of Green Day. Whereas the Network focused on new wave, this band has more of a rockabilly vibe with hints of surf rock and psychedelic. With their raw sound they feel like a garage band from the ’60s. The guys cut loose here as Billie takes on the sleazy persona of The Reverend, who howls in just about every song. The band is notable because it sounds nothing like Green Day, which isn’t an easy feat for most side bands. The title track from their solid debut album shows off the vintage, dirty, and sleazy vibe of the music. Since their first album was so promising, hopefully we’ll get some new music from them in the future.

Sing the Sorrow- AFI

AFI_-_Sing_the_Sorrow_coverRelease Year: 2003

Rating: 9.5/10

This is the album that introduced Davey Havok and crew to the mainstream, even though they have been around for a while. This is their sixth studio album and one of their most well known. It has some of their best songs here and it’s also the album where they almost completely changed their sound. Here they trade in their punk rock sound for a more Gothic, hard rock influence. Though it may have shocked their original fan base, it proved to be successful for the band as this is one of their best albums to date.

As I mentioned before, anyone who listened to any of AFI’s older stuff would be shocked to hear that their punk rock influences are taken down here. Instead, the album is beautifully tragic with hard guitars and poetic lyrics that make for a dark, intense record. But older fans don’t need to fret, they didn’t completely abandoned their old style. The fast paced guitars and the screaming vocals can still be find on songs like “Paper Airplanes (Makeshift Wings)” and “Dancing Through Sunday.” Granted, their older fans may not like it, but at least they didn’t abandon their roots.

Since they do tone down on their punk rock influence here, this makes this their most accessible release. This is the album that got me into the band and that’s probably how most people found out about them. Not only is the album more accessible because of the change in sound, it’s also because it has some of their catchiest songs. Probably the best known one found here is “Girl’s Not Grey.” It’s not surprising why this track is so well loved; it’s upbeat, energetic, and something that really gets you moving. Another great song that gets you hooked is “This Celluloid Dream.” Not only is the upbeat, fast music reminiscent of their older material, it’s another track that gets you moving.

This album is amazing because you can listen to it backwards and forwards without skipping a track. Every song is awesome no matter if it’s fast and energetic, or slow and depressing. The opening tune “Miserae Cantrae” really sets the dark mood of the album with it’s dramatic pounding percussion and creepy toll bells. The vocals add to the drama by sounding like they’re part of a rally cry as they shout “Love, your hate/your faith lost.” As the song keeps going the music constantly builds to get your heart pumping and your blood racing with the anger pulsing throughout. It’s a great opening song that gets you excited for the rest of the album.

Another awesome song is “The Leaving Song Pt. 2.” This track continues with the aggression and anger found in the previous song. The rallying vocals also make a return here. Everything about this track is perfect for an angry mob and it’s here where you can really hear their new direction toward a darker sound. What’s interesting is its counterpart “The Leaving Song,” is its extreme opposite in every way. The song is quiet and somber with a simple guitar riff playing throughout. Whereas Havok sounds raging in the former track, he sounds heartbroken in this one.

Unlike their previous albums, the songs here follow a sad, somber theme that they would continue on their later releases. You can find these themes the most on the track “Silver and Cold.” The sad piano playing and the rain storm sound effects during the intro set the tone here. The pretty, Gothic lyrics only makes the mood more depressing. It’s probably the most heartbreaking song on the album. Another dark song that’s harsher than the others is “Death of Seasons.”

This one starts with a slow, somber bass line before Davey comes in with throat wrenching vocals. Then the speeding energy hits you out of nowhere bringing you back to their punk rock days. This song is also interesting because it tosses in some electronic elements, which could be seen as a foreshadow to the side band Havok would do later on. The ending here gives you an unnerving feeling because everything stops except for violins playing, almost as a calm before the storm, yet you can still hear Havok yelling in the background.

Overall, the album gets 9.5/10. This is one of AFI’s greatest albums and also their most accessible. Every song is amazing and some are even now considered classic. Though they did go in a dark, Gothic direction here that makes everything sound tragic, they still don’t entirely abandon their punk rock roots as the speeding guitars and abrasive energy can be found in quite a few songs. The future of AFI is uncertain right now, but after listening to this record again, I really hope they make more music soon.

Bright Black Heaven- Blaqk Audio

Release Year: 2012

Rating: 8/10

I reviewed Blaqk Audio’s first album Cexcells not too long ago and it was interesting and awesome enough to make me check out their latest release. When listening to it it seems like nothing much has changed from their sound to their lyrical content, but that doesn’t mean the songs aren’t good. The songs and the music are often intriguing enough that it’ll grab your attention. And if Blaqk Audio has one mission it’s to make you dance.

The album starts off on a weird note with the song “Cold War.” For their debut, I commented how a lot of the songs had music that sounded like J-pop or that it belonged on a DDR machine. The trend continues here with this song, but it sounds more like Euro-pop if that’s possible. When the music started it actually made me think of Ace of Base. It’s not a bad song but it’s just kind of weird, at least for me mostly due to the cheesy sounding music. The upbeat, Japanese-esque music continues on the track “Fade to White.” But here the music sounds really cool and spacey, especially during the intro where the music is slow and kind of creepy. This song is pretty energetic making it good for a night of dancing or a jog around the block.

While the band manages to not have a single bad song here, there aren’t too many that stand out. “Deconstructing Gods” has dreamy, lullaby like music during the intro before the music builds up into harsh music that gives you a cold feeling, while “Everybody’s Friend” has upbeat, electric music that’s infectious. The song is interesting because the music sounds so cheerful, but it seems to be about a love affair. It’s weird, but the dynamic between the music and the lyrics is interesting. The intro to “Bliss” sounds like demented circus music, which gives off this creepy vibe. The creepiness increases with the soft vocals provided by Davey Havok, but they get more aggressive along with the rest of the music during the chorus. Even though it’s pretty creepy sounding, it’s still an awesome song.

One of the best songs here is the closing track “Ill Lit Ships.” What makes it so different is that it’s just a somber piano and pained vocals for most of the song. Just about all of the tracks have electronic inspired music and while that’s not absent from this track, it’s not the main focus. The song sounds and feels heavy, which gives it a sad tone. What’s nice about the electronic music that they use here is not only is it not overbearing, but it doesn’t ruin the somber tone. It’s a beautiful, tragic song and a startling way to close the album.

I mentioned before how Blaqk Audio’s music is interesting and attention grabbing, but with this album the music seems to be inspired mainly by 80’s New Wave, mostly on the slower songs. The riff for “Let’s Be Honest” is catchy, but it actually sounds like a New Order song from the 80s. Another song where you can hear the New Wave influence is “With Your Arms Around.” Though it does sound like one of their other songs from their first album, the music still has that 80’s vibe. It’s interesting that the band seems to be bringing this music back to the masses and at least it doesn’t sound like the electronic music being used in pop songs today.

Just as with their debut, the songs here seem to deal with love, sex, and betrayal. The lyrics allude to one night stands, discreet affairs, and broken hearts. And even though a lot of the music is upbeat and even fun at times, some of the lyrics are dark. A great lyric comes from “Ill Lit Ships,” where Havok constantly repeats “Your smile, it hurts me so.” It’s a poetic line that takes something so positive and beautiful and turns it into a weapon. It’s lines like these that take love and exposes its ugly side, which seems to be a constant theme throughout the album.

Overall, the album gets 8/10. Though nothing much has changed from their first album, it’s still a great effort. The songs are awesome with infectious music to make you dance until you can’t dance anymore. You’ll especially love the music if you’re a fan of 80’s New Wave, which seems to be the main influence here. They’re songs are catchy, even though they deal with themes of love and betrayal. If you haven’t given Blaqk Audio listen, do yourself a favor and get their latest album right now. Not only are they interesting, they make awesome dance music that’ll make you move even if you’re just sitting on the bus.