Jade Puget

AFI (The Blood Album) – AFI

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 7/10

AFI is one of those bands I’ve grown to love and appreciate more over the years. I initially got into them with “Girl’s Not Grey” and Sing the Sorrow. So when they teased a new album last year, I was beyond excited. Burials isn’t necessarily my favorite, but it was solid. I hoped The Blood Album would top that and mark a proper return for the band. Well, that isn’t really the case.

Even before the album dropped, AFI got a lot of flak. Some fans called the songwriting lazy while others thought the songs were just boring. And after spending so much time with it, I see what they mean. The album isn’t bad; it’s just kind of there. Very few of the songs are notable or exciting like we expect from AFI at this point. The opening track “Dark Snow” is decent and kind of catchy with its hook of “I go on,” but it’s not the most gripping song to introduce an album. AFI has always been good at creating openings that punch you in the teeth and tell you what you’re in for. While this track does map out the sound for the rest of the album, it’s kind of tame. It has the potential to grow on you, but it’s not very exciting.

Things get better with “Still a Stranger.” Though it reminds you of something from Crash Love, it has this great energy to it that kicks you into gear. Frontman Davey Havok even pulls out some aggressive vocals though I gotta admit, they do sound a bit forced. It’s a nice way to even out the song with some edge, but it sounds like he’s laying it on a bit too thick. It almost doesn’t fit. Still, this track manages to be one of the more notable ones from the album. Another song in the same vein is “Aurelia.” Havok hypnotizes you with the way he sings “Aurelia, the new wolves await/Aurelia they brought you new chains.” From there the hook is kind of repetitive, but it does its job at making the song stand out. It does sound similar to other songs on the album due to the midtempo music, but it’s still a decent entry.

The rest of the album follows the same suit: songs that barely register, but sound good in the whole scope of the record. Tracks like “Hidden Knives,” “Pink Eyes,” and “Get Hurt” aren’t terrible. There’s just not much to say about them. They have a generally bouncy energy to them while midtempo rock music plays out and Havok spits out some lyrics. I guess they work as a whole, but the songs are kind of weak when you listen to them outside the album. They just don’t hit you the way a good AFI song should. And it doesn’t matter if it’s aggressive or not. Songs like “The Interview” and Endlessly, She Said” are still memorable and charming even though they’re not in your face. The same can’t be said about most of the songs on this album.

Snow Cats” is another decent song that has a bit of a Decemberunderground feel to it. With the somber, mellow guitar riff opening the track, this one has a melancholy mood to it. Still, it’s not the best song in their catalog particularly when it comes to the lyrics. The chorus is easy enough to remember, but the rest of the lyrics aren’t all that engaging. It sounds like Havok strung together a bunch of phrases to be provocative and it doesn’t work. “Feed From the Floor” shows off their lighter side with the brighter music that sounds like it was ripped from The Cure. But after a few minutes, the song grows dull and boring. And closing track “The Wind that Carries Me Away” is only memorable because it sounds like their version of Depeche Mode’s “I Feel You.” The song is aiming for an ominous, smoldering sound and it doesn’t quite hit it. Like most of the other tracks, it’s decent but doesn’t do much.

There are a handful of songs that gives us a taste of the classic, hard hitting AFI we desire. Single “White Offerings” is still one of the standout tracks here. It has a pummeling energy, awesome drive, and tons of attitude. It makes you want to start breaking shit when you hear it. “Dumb Kids” is another standout song for a lot of the same reasons. It finally brings some excitement to the album. It makes you want to pump your fist in the air and start pogo dancing. Personally, these are the type of songs I wanted on the record, mixed in with some morbid romance for good measure. “She Speaks the Language” and “So Beneath You” stand out for actually sounding different. The former has an alluring stuttering guitar riff giving the song a dangerous vibe. The looming bass playing during the verse is killer too making for a notable track. The latter finds the band getting in touch with their aggressive, hardcore side once again. Out of all the songs on the album, this one has the most punk rock influence and will likely appeal to longtime fans.

If there’s one song on the album that I just flat out don’t like it’s “Above the Bridge.” I already mentioned the complaints about lazy songwriting and it’s all over this track. The music itself is okay. It’s kind of generic and has a bit of a Cure vibe with the keyboards. They actually sound pretty similar to the keys on “Just Like Heaven.” Seeing as they were a huge influence on the band, it’s not that much of a surprise. While the music may be unoffending, it’s the hook that I cannot stand: “I saw you step upon that bridge/I saw you walk across that bridge/I saw you float above that bridge.” The constant repetition makes the song annoying. When I first heard it, I dubbed it “that bridge song.” There are some other uninteresting verses, but that’s all there is to it. And even those suffer from constant repetition. Very few of the songs on the record are fantastic, but this one is definitely the weakest entry.

So is the Blood Album bad? Not necessarily, it’s just not very exciting. Rather than having songs that are thrilling, charming, and exciting, the songs are just there. Very few of them manage to stand out and grab your attention. Others are okay at best, sounding generic or too similar to one another. Sadly, the album is kind of disappointing. It’s enjoyable, but still overwhelmingly okay. Usually, their songs can be described as charming, romantic, morbid, or elegant. The best way to describe the new stuff is decent rock songs. And it has nothing to do with their change to a lighter, friendlier sound. I love that AFI is constantly evolving; I just want it to be interesting. This album misses that mark. It does have potential to grow on you over time, but it might take a while. It seems maybe Havok and Puget had too much on their plate while making the record. At the same time, they were working on the new Blaqk Audio album and Havok was working on Dreamcar. It’s fine to want to do a lot of different projects, but there comes a time when you need to focus on just one. I’m glad AFI are back, but I expected better from them. Hopefully, when they’re ready for their next album it’ll be one that will remind me why I fell in love with the band in the first place.

 

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.

Crash Love – AFI

Release Year: 2009

Rating: 7/10

AFI may have started out as your standard punk rock band, but later in their career they were bold enough to switch up their sound making way for some of their best albums. For their 2009 effort, they changed things again and successfully divided the fan base along with it. The new lighter, more rock oriented sound alienated those who craved the hardcore, aggressive nature of the band. It can be considered the black sheep of their catalog, but is it really that bad?

When I first heard the album I agreed with those who hated the album. Gone were Davey Havok’s intense sneering vocals, the dirty guitar riffs, and the bad ass nature of the songs. There were some elements from their last LP Decemberunderground, but I wasn’t really feeling the lighter sound. Revisiting it now I find there are a handful of strong songs. The opening track “Torch Song” is one of the strongest on the album. It has the dark, Gothic vibe from their previous effort with morbid lines like “I’d tear out my eyes for/you my dear/oh my dear.” It’s also pretty catchy, but some fans my find some similarities to “Endlessly She Said.” Another surprisingly good song is “Too Shy to Scream.” It has this old school swing/rockabilly vibe to it that’s very playful and energetic. It seems a bit out of place at first, but it really grows on you. The chorus is really catchy and the entire thing just sounds like a good time. This is another contender for best song on the LP.

Veronica Sawyer Smokes” and “Okay, I Feel Better Now” are strong songs from the album. The first is a reference to Winona Ryder’s character from the movie Heathers and seems like a love song to the actress. It’s an upbeat track with some light, jangly guitars with a simple chorus that gets stuck in your head. This track seems to have the most pop sensibilities even down to Havok’s singing, which is very light in nature. The latter song builds up this sense of anticipation keeping listeners hungry for the moment when everything explodes. It never reaches that point, but it does keep getting intense as the track goes on. There’s also a sense of darkness to it similar to their older songs.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album is okay at best. Too many of the songs are forgettable or suffer from weak lyrics. The melodic “End Transmission” has the line “the broken radio/was playing suicide” which sounds kind of cool, but makes no sense when you think about it. And these high school-esque lyrics are sprinkled throughout the LP. AFI have always had lyrics with great images that stick with you and that’s entirely missing from this album. Instead, everything sounds too sappy and cliché. It also makes some of the songs too sweet. Aside from sounding like something by The Smashing Pumpkins, “Darling I Want to Destroy You” has Havok singing so light and it sounds way too sweet and fluffy. Even though the hook is decent, it still sounds like a whiny emo song from the mid-2000s.

Songs like “Medicate,” “I Am Trying Very Hard to Be Here,” and “Cold Hands” are all okay, but they just aren’t as memorable as their other songs. One issue are the super clean guitars. In some cases it works, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss Jade Puget’s gritty, dirty sound that added so much aggression to their songs. Without it, the songs fall flat and never get that chance to come alive, grabbing listeners by the throat. For many of the songs I was waiting for the moment when everything would explode, but it never came leaving me unsatisfied.

So is the album? No, but I wouldn’t put it with their best. There are a good amount of strong songs that both explore new sounds and mark a return to their aggressive nature. In some cases the new, lighter AFI isn’t that bad, but it does leave most of the tracks forgettable and weak. Fans who have been following the band since they started will be disappointed since it seems like they completely abandoned their punk rock roots. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the other songs didn’t seem like filler. This experimental effort isn’t horrible, but it can’t hold up with their classics.