Review Summary: Chilling, distant, and insanely proficient.
"I don't dance. I'm not even sure if I'm physically capable of dancing."
That's how I would have described myself before listening to this record. Now... I'm not so sure. I was tempted to go beyond nodding my head and tapping my feet numerous times while soaking in this new album from Blaqk Audio. I certainly didn't get up and move through my room like Michael Madsen had he been on ecstasy during that famous ear scene in Reservoir Dogs. Though I wouldn't hold it against Davey Havok and Jade Puget, the duo that comprises this electronic outfit, had I been caught in the middle of such a terrifying display. Not when they've delivered such a blissfully irresistible set of tracks on their third LP, 'Material'.
Blaqk Audio started out as a side project for the two aforementioned members of the alternative rock group, AFI. Their first effort, 'CexCells', was a dark and sultry release while their sophomore follow-up, 'Bright Black Heaven', tossed out a consistent vibe in favor of variety. These fellows have always worn their electronic inspirations on their sleeves and that hasn't changed for this newest material. You can hear VNV Nation echoing throughout the chords, Nine Inch Nails pounding on the drums, and Depeche Mode swaying to the rhythm. Although they wear these inspirations proudly, they still retain their own identity thanks to Davey's unique vocals and Jade's increasingly impressive grasp on his tool set.
'Material' simply oozes confidence. There are layers upon layers to peel back within each song and yet it's nearly impossible to avoid the hooks found within the melodies. Tracks like "I'm A Mess" and "Anointed" demonstrate this perfectly with their suave vocals and intricate soundscapes. Most of the tracks on this record are not as quick to digest as those found on past albums. It can take a few listens before the underlying teeth sink into you, which may put off fans of the last two full length releases. Give it a chance though and each successive listen reveals something new to latch your ears onto and that is something to be commended. Jade has grown as a producer and as a result of that growth, the sounds found throughout this LP are more focused and sagaciously chosen than ever.
To compliment this maturity, Davey's vocal delivery has been finely tuned to truly benefit Jade's instrumental work. While his lyrics can be as poetic and metaphorical as ever, they've also been sculpted down to give the listener what is needed and nothing more. The opening to "Black At The Center" would make Trent Reznor proud and it's easily some of the most impressive singing found on this entire album. Davey's words are cold and often distant which works to give these tracks a haunting and melancholy tone. This is surprisingly even more effective when juxtaposed with some of the more upbeat instrumentals heard on tracks like "Graphic Violence" and "First To Love". Both of which are standout tracks that epitomize the strengths of the changes made to the overall sound being put out by this group.
One grievance I do have is the placement of the single, "Anointed", in the track list. This track stands out from those surrounding it and I feel like it would work better if it were placed a little closer to the beginning of the album. Regardless, this record has something for everyone whether it be the driving force of an opener, "Waiting To Be Told", or the overwhelmingly captivating "Ceremonial (Burst Into Stars)". This is a very consistent set of tracks in terms of quality and yet they all offer something a little different from each other. They are connected through Davey's amorous delivery of chilling words. It might not be as harmonious as their first record or as sundry as their second, but it is their most proficient work to date. Let's hope we don't have to wait another fours years before I have a new excuse to dance again.
-"First To Love"
-"Ceremonial (Burst Into Stars)"
-"Black At The Center"
Full album is available to stream on Pandora.
Been listening to it for the past week. Not a track I don't enjoy to be honest!
Any feedback on the review is greatly appreciated!
Album Rating: 4.0
Great review. I'm not a huge fan of "To Be Alone" or "You Will Hate Me", but I plan on giving this many more spins. I actually forgot that both CexCells and some of the earlier BBH tracks had to grow on me and now the former is one of my all time favorite albums and I think BBH is outstanding. I think this album does lack some of the musical darkness/power that both of the former albums had in some form, but I'm content with this.
And yeah, I really hope we get another album in 2 years (with hopefully some new AFI in 2017). This felt like a really short listen.
Thank you! Not joking, those two songs took the longest to click with me as well. Listening to them in a car with an amazing sound system definitely helped turn me on to them. Both of those tracks have a sort of "longing" to them that I think isn't immediately inviting to the listener. I hope you do warm up to them eventually though! I had the same experience as you with Bright Black Heaven as well! Songs like Cold War and Deconstructing Gods weren't even on my radar compared to songs like Let's Be Honest and Ill-Lit Ships.
One thing that I find interesting with Blaqk Audio is that they started out with a very distinct sound (in my opinion) and it's been slowly etched away with each release. CexCells had a lot of repeating sounds I would describe as sort of... confined and sultry. Bright Black Heaven had a lot less of that and it's almost completely gone here.
Personally, I think the sound they've gone with here is a bit more timeless and "professional" for lack of a better term. I'm just pointing it out cause I can certainly see why fans of the previous albums wouldn't be as happy with this one. To me though, I felt like listening to those albums (especially CexCells) was more of an event that took a lot of effort to concentrate on. Almost like watching a movie. I feel like Bright Black Heaven had songs that stood completely on their own and with Material I can more easily see myself listening to these tracks in almost any environment.
Ok, I'm rambling now. And probably not making much sense. Still a big fan of CexCells overall though. It's hard to convey these abstract "feelings" without sounding like you're just reading into things too much. It's super simple in my head and a nightmare to try and convey, haha!
Anyway, thanks for reading Grey!
Album Rating: 4.0
I think I get the gist of what you're trying to say! I can't say how I envision they're sound is exactly the same but I'm too tired to even attempt to provide a description of that haha! But seriously, I really enjoyed reading this!
I also didn't like the title track here much at first, but it grew on my a lot. I kinda wish they made it into more of a ballad, but it definitely works as what it is.
I also noticed that you have Burials at a 5 and I can't say I agree with that lol, although I do enjoy it (I have it at a 4). I'll read your review of that in the near future.
Yeah, the title track didn't immediately grab me either. It's quickly becoming one of my favorites though. I love the spacious and almost relaxed vibe of the whole thing. "Oh I'm all alone!", a good example of simple lyrics that fit the instrumental perfectly in my opinion. It doesn't try to be more than it needs to be... not that I wouldn't love another ballad like you suggested!
And yeah, my 'Burials' review is not my best. I stand by my own personal rating (I think songs like Rewind and Greater Than 84 are up there with the best that AFI has ever written), but the review itself is basically a fancy track by track. I don't think I really started writing decent stuff until my XTRMST review. Hopefully it has all been uphill from there!
Thanks again for reading! I really appreciate it!
bright black heaven was really lame so i'm not sure if i'll listen to this. is it better?
Brilliant review, not heard of these guys, may have to give them a go
I think this is different enough from Bright Black Heaven that you might enjoy it more Lucid. No promises though! If you don't enjoy Davey's vocals for instance, I don't think this will magically change your mind.
Thank you very much Asleep!
Album Rating: 3.0
Good review, I thought the singles were alright, I'll check this out today
CC was a great album but BBH was totally forgettable. I really hope this is a step up.
Either way, I totally admire this duo's ability to move from rock to synthpop in such a natural and effortless way
Digging: Syndrome 81 - Prisons Imaginaires
Album Rating: 3.0
@Bloc I think you will at least enjoy it. I thought both CC and BBH were rather forgettable, but I still enjoy a listen from time to time.
Good to know. Mind you, I haven't listen to these guys in a long time and actually kinda forgot about them over the past couple of years
Album Rating: 3.0
I was once a huge AFI fan and now its hard for me to even listen to them, I understand forgetting about this project. I just remembered yesterday that Xtrmst exists.
Album Rating: 4.0
I still feel like almost every track on this album is lacking something that could have made it that much better. Like if To Be Alone was constantly building to some grandiose final chorus, that would have been awesome. Black at the Center, the best track on the album, could have either had some sort of cool bridge or another chorus. It reminds me of Bitter For Sweet, which is great, but yeah. The most complete song is probably Curious Friends. Still not digging You Will Hate me that much and I'm A Mess needed a better chorus. Ceremonials feels almost too party pop. Overall, I like the song but I think it could have done something more interesting. It has a great Bridge though. If anything about this album really annoys me, it's Jade's excess usage of the quarter, eighth, sixteenth note run build. I would mind it less if it actually "dropped" like in modern dubstep music but it doesn't.
Also, I really wish the album had a darker track like Bliss, Ill Lit Ships, or Deconstructing Gods. Not lowering this to a 3 yet because the fact that it's BA and that it's still overall very good makes me happy. Besides, it still needs plenty more listens.
Album Rating: 4.0
11 To Be Alone
10 You Will Hate Me
9 I'm A Mess
8 Ceremonials (Burst Into Stars)
6 Waiting To Be Told
5 Graphic Violence
4 First To Love
2 Curious Friends
1 Black at the Center
Album Rating: 3.0
This may be a 2.5 tbh, its a pleasant enough listen, but its just really bland in the end. I agree somewhat with what you're saying shadow, but I can tell you are a much bigger BA fan than I have ever been. Bliss is a jam though so respect on mentioning that, I wanted something like that on here.
Album Rating: 3.5
This album is surprisingly cool. There's no doubt these guys are good songwriters, but I felt like the previous Blaqk Audio albums lacked a captivating style. BBH and CC sort of felt like an amalgamation of electronic genres but ran through the "AFI machine" and then watered down. This album feels like a new, coherent entity and it also feels like they re-discovered their creativity. Also, the vocals on their previous albums really put me off, but Davey is trying some really cool stuff on this one. Not a groundbreaking album by any means, but its catchy, fun and a pleasant surprise
I definitely think that this is their most timeless album by far. I know this might sound like a negative thing to some people, but I feel like Jade's instrumental work on Material is the most "mainstream" stuff he's ever done with Blaqk Audio. I can't think of a better way to describe it. And Davey's vocals definitely feel more tailored to each individual song than ever before.
Pretty much been listening to it daily for the past few weeks now. Haven't grown tired of it one bit. In fact, songs like "Material" and "You Will Hate Me" have only grown on me more and more. I do feel like "I'm A Mess" is the weakest track here for me. I love the instrumental but I'm not feeling the chorus nearly as much as the rest of the song.
When I say mainstream... I mean it in the sense that it fits right in with the best of Blaqk Audio's contemporaries like Infected Mushroom, VNV Nation, Nine Inch Nails, etc. At least for me.
Album Rating: 4.0
I could totally see any of the first 3 tracks being on the radio if given the opportunity. Waiting To Be Told and First To Love are the exact kind of songs I like seeing this group make.
I feel like Ceremonials is trying to be a prettier track than it actually is. Snuff On Digital's chorus is downright gorgeous and I wish I could say that about any of these tracks.
I'm pretty sure this will stay at a 3.5 for me but I really wish I liked it more...
That being said, I'm pumped as hell to see them live. Should be fun.
I actually like Graphic Violence a lot lol