‘Bright Black Heaven’, Blaqk Audio

Released 11th September 2012 on Superball

Blaqk Audio is a techno side-project by AFI members Davey Havok and Jade Puget, on vocals and everything else respectively. It’s their second album, following 2007’s Cexcells. I don’t listen to much techno in general, and this album has really given me no reason to do so. It’s listenable, holds some moments of entertainment, but in general, it’s a bland, forgettable mush of vaguely retro synths, which can’t decide whether it wants to be a dance album or an AFI experiment on keyboards.

Usually, I’m a sucker for vocal harmonies. Big-time. But,  as the opening track, ‘Cold War’ warms up, I almost missed it. The vocal line repeats “I’ll never forget you” with no emotional intensity to support, and the song just sounds a bit like kids’ TV does electro. It goes through the motions with all the right colours and ticks the electro boxes, but it’s just a bit dull, a sentiment which continues through most of the album.

All the songs are pretty well constructed, the music supports the vocals well, mostly right length, and there are some definite moments of interest; ‘Faith Healer’, the first single from Bright Black Heaven opens with a Nine inch Nails-esque groove, has some well timed breaks, and ‘Bliss’ is darker, has by far the most interesting beat on the record, and the slow, heavy chorus worked a grin out of my perfectly neutral reviewer’s face. But the thing is, these moments are hardly enough to rescue the album from the oblivion of meh, mostly because they’re too confused.

The album is really struggling to go in two different directions. In one corner, we have a dance album destined for clubs and light shows, pushing through with tracks like ‘Everybody’s Friends’,  ‘Bon Voyeurs’ and ‘Say Red’. In the other corner, we have a deeper, more emotive album based on vocals and more rooted in the muscians’ background in AFI. Unfortunately, neither is done particularly well;  the more energetic dance tracks sound pretentious and are undermined because of the vocals pretending to be something more, while the techno-AFI tracks lack the meat of a full band behind them and sacrifice big moments for synth-by-numbers melodies. For example, ‘The Witness’ could easily be a ‘meaningful’ filler track on a recent AFI album, and ‘Deconstructing Gods’ builds nicely from the opening into a pause that begs for a fat, sustained chorus, but instead introduces a new, boring synth line.

In this reviewer’s opinion, they should have really gone for the dance album. Clearly, Havok and Puget want to do something different and branch out from AFI, but they’re not doing it well. Havok’s voice, when it’s not supported by guitars and drums, sounds whiny and teenage-faux-emotional, which of course, is not helped by the lyrics and titles of the tracks, all of which belong to one-off slower tracks on a louder album. My eyes widened and I began shaking my head when the last track ‘Ill-Lit Ships’ opened with an emotional piano intro, and it even finished with a Linkin Park-ybeat, and I felt like a sad fourteen year-old. But, to go full-on for the dance option, they’d have to give up on the depth that they are desperately striving for, something I doubt they’re willing to do.

The album is available for stream here, but honestly, I don’t think it’s worth the time. It’s confused and wants to be much more evocative than it manages, and ultimately, it’s pretty forgettable – several times when listening I had to check to see if the song had changed. There are moments, but it’s probably better to go and listen to Depeche Mode, rather than spend an hour listening out for them.

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