As is the case with anything related to Davey Havok, Blaqk Audio succeed by painting a story with their albums. Not explicitly, but it’s a simple task to envision each album through the dark emotional lyrics. Beneath The Black Palms, the band’s fifth full release, is perhaps the hardest one to discern, but it is filled with heated imagery and a sinister interpretation of a love story reminiscent of a twisted version of Erin Morgenstern’s novel The Night Circus.
Blaqk Audio always delves into the dark side of relationships – something that Davey Havok and Jade Puget’s main group, the legendary AFI, tend to steer slightly further away from. Where AFI relishes in eloquent rage, Blaqk Audio is flirtatious and sexy. Havok has never steered away from topics of sex, manipulation or longing, but Beneath The Black Palms takes these concepts and weaves them in and out of faint fantasy imagery that explores the dynamic of a couple who are mad for each other, but can’t effectively communicate (“It’s Not Going Well”).
Filled with electronic synth pop and new wave elements, Beneath The Black Palms treads little new ground in terms of sound. Songs range from loud bangers (“Consort”) to slow, moody piano ballads (“1948”). As is tradition with Blaqk Audio, most songs tend to sound a little more similar to each other than probably intentional (as like past albums), but Puget’s orchestration is so expertly done it hardly matters.
Havok retains the clean vocals he has mastered over the last decade, and although he hardly pushes himself in the ways that have made him one of the leading frontmen and singers in the industry, he commands such a powerful new wave presence that he can’t be ignored.
One playful new aspect is that he introduces a much more feminine vocalization in verses opposite a deeper voice for other verses, which shows the perspective of both characters of the relationship (“Burnt Babies Fear the Fire”). This dynamic helps show the mindset of the “characters” while also managing to be ambient, poetic and omnipresent.
The “theme” of Beneath The Black Palms (if there is one at all) is communication. The characters communicate through passion, but seem to keep misunderstanding one another. “Zipper Don’t Work” illustrates that even though their physical relationship is intense, even that isn’t communicating correctly (“I may have poorly planned this, what’s underneath this dress / I wore to end all wars / I’d bare my arm but you’re a violent mess”).
Although there are elements of fantasy, such as in “A Distant Light”, (“On a distant road, somewhere far behind / Where we hid the light that was never, never mine / … / You had hidden spells falling from your hair”) the album explores the lovers attempt time and again to get on the same page, before ending song “It’s Not Going Well” finds them admit their faults (“You said he turns you on though he can’t tell / … / You wrote ‘talk dirty,’ but he can’t spell”).
Beneath The Black Palms delves deep into the idea of a relationship that so badly wants to work, but seems to fail at every turn. But the pain of this is buried beneath layers of intense synth and Havok’s sexy brooding. Although the album doesn’t stand out quite as much as some past albums, it explores a new piece of troubled relationships with intense beats, poetic illusion and sincere command.
by Kyle Schultz