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Blaqk Audio – Material
Material - Blaqknoise/Kobalt
It’s hard to believe, but electro-pop duo Blaqk Audio are already onto their third full-length. While that might not sound impressive for a band that’s been active for over nine years, considering that the project exists primarily as a pastime for AFI heavyweights Davey Havok and Jade Puget, the longevity and commitment speaks for itself. Back with their latest goth flavoured take on vocal-driven electronic dance music, Material, the duo move forward by taking a step back in time.
Whereas Blaqk Audio’s previous efforts focused on a mosaic of cyber-slick beats, Material infuses a sense of retro electronica harkening back to the genre’s earliest years in the 1980’s. This isn’t to say that every song sounds just like Depeche Mode, but particular care has been taken to emulate recurring elements of a more primitive era. The primary composition maintains a modern substance, but the “feature” beats of songs like “Anointed” fondly ring out as if played on a clunky keyboard in front of a classic IBM setup.
Material harnesses a familiar “dark romantic” energy that paints dark, heartbroken imagery skirting genuine sadness only due to the steady jump of a pulse bounding beat. “No one has ever sent me flowers, you’ll be the first I leave because I’m always the first to love,” sings Havok on the crest of smooth landing electronic rhythm of “First To Love.” The tempo glides along smoothly with an energizing mix of synth blasts and patches of cascading keyboard notes. Background and foreground coexist with purpose, pushing each new track deeper into memory. Likewise, “To Be Alone” harnesses Puget’s steady soundboard beats with vocal melody, giving way to a chorus that fits right in with Blaqk Audio’s various career anthems. Undeniable album highlight “Curious Friends” twists and turns, sorting between tempos and a menacing array of juxtaposed keyboard frequencies. “Does he tell you that he loves you, the way that you do?” rings rings Havok’s sleek and polished demeanor against a wall of deep bass thumping and bursts of sharp, laser-like synth blasts. From a compositional standpoint, Puget is a master of his craft.
By contrast, but working towards the same images of lost, betrayed love, Puget employs a minimalist approach for “Black At The Centre.” With each note ringing out as if carrying to the far reaches of a vacuous void, the band takes a solemn turn in a melancholy direction. Some such tracks take the transformation somewhat sluggishly and may be too dark for their own good, with flashier neighbouring tracks inevitably stealing the thunder. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, and still hold up in isolation.
Unexpectedly though, Material boasts a few of Blaqk Audio’s most diverse and experimental numbers. Most notably, “Graphic Violence” splices in a little of what could be viewed as Japanese-inspired video game electronica with the aforementioned retro edge and high flying moments bringing to mind underground acts like RainbowDragonEyes. Havok even brightens his voice to emulate the likenesses. With a similarly light heart, “You Will Hate Me” and “Ceremonial (Burst Into Stars)” chirp and hum like a ray of sunlight on Blaqk Audio’s typically dark songwriting. The latter especially emphasizes the “pop” aspect of electro-pop, making for a cheerier disposition that somehow works amidst the album’s initially drab mood.
While long time fans will find comfort in conventional piano-synth numbers like “I’m A Mess” and the title track, a deeper look reveals Material as Blaqk Audio’s most significant deviation from past efforts. Puget and Havok play with more than the typical AFI-on-a-keyboard fare, exploring sunnier skies with lighter synth notes in a few instances between the usual gloom filled subject matter. Albeit slightly fractured between styles, Material plays out as a refreshing tweak to Blaqk Audio’s established format.