Release Year: 2016
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.