Review Summary: At the end of the day, CexCells is a strong release, with compelling moments, but will not stand out as anything more than a side project in the annals of electronic music.
Blaqk Audio - CexCells
When I was about 15, at the height of my (and my friends') obsession with the then seemingly local band AFI, The Art of Drowning
had been keeping it real for about a year or so and AFI were recording their major label debut, which would become Sing the Sorrow
. I remember in 10th grade thinking that AFI might be selling out in going to Dreamworks and that weakly shattered my fragile sophomore world. Oh no they used to be tru punx?! Nah, I sort of understood that AFI had always marched to the beat of their own drum, but I didn't gather the full impact of this until my friends and I had an opportunity to go to an AFI meet and greet in San Francisco at the Metreon. The local alternative radio station had set up their Christmas-time booth in the middle of a hallway there and had been broadcasting for a few weeks anticipation of this and other meet and greets with Bay Area bands. We showed up 5 hours early, 3 hours before any other fan show up (and AFI fans are rather die hard, see The Despair Faction). We were so excited to be part of this world that we were too fanboyish and made a diehard faux pas in showing up so early that we ended up wasting our time. Anyways, our garrulous Indian friend Rahul chatted up whatever deejay was spinning the afternoon (ya it really was that early) records and made sure that we'd be the first to get to ask AFI a preposterously nervous and sophomoric question about their major label status and their new album. Short of just ripping on my 15 year-old self for the rest of the paragraph, AFI were super gracious to see all of the fans show up and really appreciated the inarticulate questions that were thrown at them. We were treating to Davey and co. selecting the playlist for most of the hours leading up to them debuting two new tracks ("The Leaving Song pt. 2" and "Girls Not Grey"). Davey's playlist included some unexpected influences though. I recognized his "darker" post-punk and new wave influences from interviews and just from listening to AFI's back catalogue, but I never really noticed Davey's fascination with electronic music until that night. Listening to some select Covenant
tracks really set my mind in confusion about what AFI was really about. Then ultimately, being turned on by the electronics on Sing the Sorrow
and subsequently turned off by the electronics in Decemberunderground
, I sort of filed that influence away as unremarkable and unfortunate. Sure Davey likes this crap, but why can't I just have Black Sails in the Sunset
and listen to Covenant on the side? Well, now there's Blaqk Audio's CexCells
to add to this conundrum.
Blaqk Audio is Davey Havok's dark ambient, electronic, pop, post-punk, and house inspired side project with AFI guitarist Jade Puget. The idea behind their debut album CexCells
can be distilled to one simple idea: copy Covenant. While not a bad thought in theory, since Covenant is pretty cool, nobody likes to see pure imitation. As a nice complication to the notion of straight-up copying a style, Davey and Jade seem to be injecting their music with a little bit of AFI's superior sense of harmonic progressions and ambience. Covenant is definitely goofy in their dark poppiness, but CexCells
demands a lot more respect. Its songwriting is impressive and seems to be fostered by years of strong songwriting in AFI. A little dragged down by the constructs of creating "dark" electronic music, some of the songs are a unnecessarily demure and subdued, but other than that, I am fairly surprised with how the tracks turned out. The album doesn't move me as a whole, but all of the individual songs are pretty nice. Davey and Jade seem to have also learned a thing or two from the superior production found on most of AFI's albums that post-date 1997; the "dark" atmospheres, which are goofy in the hands of similar artists, come across as sincere and authentic, instead of synthetic and contrived, which perfectly ties in with the more sophisticated songwriting.
However, there are unfortunate parts of the album too. It completely relies on Davey's vocal performance. The songs, while stronger than your average pop songs, are really just ways to provide Davey's enigmatic voice with a backdrop. I can't help but feel that this is a pet project and the technical prowess required to make a significant work of electronic music will not be attained by this side project. The attention paid to an album like Rossz Csillag...
by Venetian Snares or The Richard D. James Collection
by Aphex Twin isn't really being touched here. Most of electronic music's appeal is its ability to both imitate and augment the realities of "natural" or "analog" music. CexCells
does none of that. It's merely AFI songs, led by Davey's strong vocals, subdued by the trapping of electronic music. Sure, it's better than your average dark house release because of that, but it pales in comparison to other significant works, and doesn't quite touch to emotional content provided by a band that does this as their primary function, like Covenant, who's key tracks like "Invisible and Silent" blow any individual song on CexCells
out of the water. Also, at 50 minutes in length, CexCells
is a little too long to just be relying on being an electronic limb of Davey Havok sans true passion. At the end of the day, CexCells
is a strong release, with compelling moments, but will not stand out as anything more than a side project in the annals of electronic music, if not just music in general.