Havok and Puget never once dig themselves too deeply into a root electronic sound.
Davey Havok and Jade Puget have a busy duo since AFI’s breakout album Sing the Sorrow in 2003. Aside from writing, recording and performing full time with AFI, Havok and Puget have released three albums as Blaqk Audio, their EDM moniker. Now, sometimes side projects manage to be nothing more than commas between a band’s albums but that’s not the case with Blaqk Audio. Since their 2007 debut CexCells, they’ve proven they are more than able to separate themselves from their primary sound and even more capable of making great albums. Material does nothing but hammer that point home, 11 times over 43 minutes.
What’s most impressive about Material is that Havok and Puget never once dig themselves too deeply into a root electronic sound. It’s as contemporary as it is ‘80s. It’s as dance-y as it is artsy. The vocal hooks are an amalgam of EDM sugar and pop-punk drama. No one can say it sounds like this or that. It sounds like everything else and nothing else. It’s a seamless, unique example of creative art atomically bonded with pop trash for all those who believe there’s nowhere new to take music. Best of all, there isn’t a track here that won’t make listeners want to dance and sing whilst brushing off the chills from the tremendous melodies—this, of course, would be best achieved in a dark, sticky neon-lit room.
“Waiting to Be Told” and “To Be Alone” are two of the strongest tracks on Material. Seeing as they appear so early on the album (first and third respectively), they set quite a tone. Put yourself, if you will, smack in the center of an ‘80s action film. The Terminator or Tron will do. You’re not taking part in the action but you’re speeding down a highway lit only by headlights in the rearview mirror as you blow past cars to a relentless heartbeat of electricity. It’s a dark, dreamlike trek with melodies that’ll wring your eyes out and tense your muscles. With the white strobe lights and these tracks playing, you’ll never want to go home.
The other nine tracks on Material don’t reach those heights but you’ll be hard-pressed to find songs this fun and emotional on pop radio. “Curious Friends” is about as Depeche Mode as any record can get. Havok uses the lower end of his versatile voice to add a layer of drama just before he jumps up to the higher notes to unleash a chorus that’s like sex in the form of music. “Graphic Violence,” despite its name, is a joyful ‘80s romp that hovers somewhere between Madonna and Culture Club. With all of the modern musical amenities, of course. The bridge descends into the mid-‘90s for a moment as well just on the heels of Havok’s voice taking on an eerily cute tone that is as sweet as it us unsettling.
“Material,” “You Will Hate Me” and “Ceremonial (Burst into Stars)” provide a fantastic tail-end to the album. “Ceremonial” edges out the others with its epic sonic scope, its danceability and its soaring hook that’ll toss listeners into orbit. It most certainly answers the question Havok asks in the chorus: “Do you feel alive?” Why yes, Mr. Havok, we do. Haven’t felt this sort of alive in a good long while.
Granted, Material has a couple missteps. “Black at the Center” and “Anointed” drop the sweaty, bumping pace a bit. Frankly, Material’s highs are so high that even the weaker tracks feel like winners due to the world feeling so fantastic after a spin through this album. Know what joy blackened at the edges by melancholy feels like? Pulsing electronics that kick down your doors, scramble your brains and make you feel like you won an award for waking up that morning. It feels like Blaqk Audio’s Material.
Havok and Puget are always busy. They’ve always got something going on and they always seem to churn out something fantastic with every attempt at something new. Here’s to hoping they’ll look to their synthesizers, computers and keyboards sooner rather than later. It’s hard to imagine they’ll top Material, but it’s also equally difficult to believe they won’t. Until then, Material will more than suffice.