Review: Blaqk Audio – Only Things We Love

The sheer amount of content Davy Havok and Jade Puget release is utterly staggering. The fact that each release is near perfect is frightening. Blaqk Audio, the AFI duo’s electronic project, is relentlessly hypnotic. Dance beats, new wave melodies and Havok’s signature melancholy blend to create a sound that feels as familiar as it is unique. Only Things We Love isn’t the group’s best release, but it’s so close it may as well be.

You can buy or stream Only Things We Love on Apple Music.

It’s hard to peg the meaning behind Blaqk Audio’s albums (or AFI’s, for that matter) due to Havok’s ambiguous writing style. The concepts behind Blaqk Audio releases tend to be far more romantic than any of Havok’s other projects. As such, Only Things We Love is about conquering the anger of youth that prevents us from loving someone else… or it’s about the confessions of a serial killer?

Havok’s vocals are again a demonstration of why he may be the best singer currently active. Decidedly different from the screams and crooning of AFI, Havok’s voice is poignantly drenched in new wave sensationalism. Utterly relaxed, he shifts comfortably between soft verses to energetic, rampant choruses. Powerful inflections in tone give his performance a superb edge that puts Only Things We Love as yet another highlight of Havok’s sensational voice (“Dark Times At the Berlin Wall”).

Puget’s arrangements are among Blaqk Audio’s best. The industrial electronic beats are deep, commanding and pulsing. The best part about Puget’s dance music is that it finds a perfect blend with modern electronica, detailed new wave melody and the corny catchiness of Dance Dance Revolution’s heyday (“Matrimony and Dust”). The downside is that Puget has used many similar synth tones for the last few records. Despite improvements from album to album, there is an argument that the underlying music for each Blaqk Audio release doesn’t do nearly enough to distinguish itself from any past album.

Despite Havok’s best descriptions of gore, such as on opening track “Infinite Skin” (“Blood on the corner / Love on a dead end street / You heard them warn her, when you first heard of me”), Only Things We Love is an album about lost love and learning to forgive. Lead single “The Viles” describes the pain of the aftermath of a break up against Puget’s pulsing synth. Havok pointedly shouts, “Day may break me. Daylight like she, like she burns / Through five nights when all is not right / And again, we meet here”.

Not all is as dark, as songs like “Summer’s Out of Sight” describe the memory of a relationship at the height of passion. Puget’s melodic bass lines and twinkling keyboards shine beneath Havok’s hopeful verses (“I had to crawl the halls to ask when we might meet before you left / You said, ‘Maybe tomorrow or never again’ / But you said, ‘Right now I’m yours’) and the devastated chorus (“Hearing you leave out my name makes me want you / You personalize pain”).

For an album relishing the sound of 80’s new wave electronica, nothing personifies it more than closing tack “Matrimony & Dust”. An elegant homage of 80’s cliches, the song finds the characters meeting again to finally move on to healthier relationships. The sincere tenderness of Havok’s voice as he croons, “And would you believe, somehow, that I am married now?” is astonishing, considering he’s a singer who became famous for throat-shredding screams and skate punk shouting.

Only Things We Love is a bitter album, but not without purpose. In what might be the biggest surprise from Havok, there’s hope in the darkness. The album is humane, carries a sincere resolution and stays true to the era that inspired it. It straddles a fine line between being Blaqk Audio’s most brutal and sweetest album. Fans of the band will find exactly what they expect, and newcomers will find what might be the single most accessible album Havok and Puget have ever written.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is typing blindly right now while the cat sits in front of his monitor. Her judgemental gaze is not unlike that of a giant squid.

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Review: Breathe Carolina – Savages

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After 2011’s Hell is What You Make it and the explosion of lead single “Blackout”, it appeared that Breathe Carolina were on the brink of stardom. Having abandoned their early electronica/screamo sound in favor of straight-up synth-laced pop, the duo landed a major record deal with Columbia and were primed for a crossover.

By 2013, Breathe Carolina had already walked away from the label due to an apparent disagreement over creative control. Later in the year, founding member Kyle Evan left the band, leaving David Schmitt as the sole original member.

Now, nearly three years after their near-breakthrough, Breathe Carolina (now comprised of Schmitt and a new backing band) are back to their original home of Fearless Records and have released Savages, a peculiar follow-up, to be sure.

Savages prides itself in its EDM influences, but at its core, it’s a summer pop record with a few oddly placed curveballs. At its best, the album begs for radio play with its infectious dance-pop sound. “Bang it Out” is case-in-point – a fittingly shameless, slightly sultry dance track that features none other than mindless pop poster children, Karmin.

It’s these moments that allow the listener to roll down the window, turn up the stereo and let the pulsing synth, womping bassline and catchy hook sing the sounds of summer. For better or worse, this is where Breathe Carolina excels and is the sole reason for their near-mainstream breakthrough.

However, with every dose of sugar provided by Savages, there’s a heavy-handed helping of sobering salt. On “Sellouts”, Schmitt decides to take issue with fans who long for the “good ol’ days”, going full metalcore with the help of Asking Alexandria screamer Danny Worsnop. There’s a clear sneer implied as Schmitt sings “You’re fascinated with the old me / And I bet you hate it when we don’t scream / You’re stuck in the past and I’m not looking back”.

We get the irony. The reasons requiring this indiscreet moment remain unclear, but one thing’s for certain – David Schmitt and the rest of Breathe Carolina don’t care what you or some major label executive think. They’re going to do whatever they want, thank you very much.

That’s all good and well and perfectly within an artist’s right. But why muddy the clean water for the sake of sarcasm or statement? The truth is, so much of Savages is right within Breathe Carolina’s wheelhouse that any good swing could produce a hit. Opener “Bury Me” is catchy as hell, while “Shots Fired” weaves a slower beat without losing any movement. “Shadows” is a refreshingly dark and painful track juxtaposed by its pulsing tempo.

Others songs sound lazy and uninspired. “Chasing Hearts” relies far too much on the vocals and R&B vibe of Tyler Carter. The album’s title track flashes moments of promise before becoming too convoluted, often sounding more engaging during the brief music-only interludes. Other tracks flirt with a pleasing dance-pop vibe before retreating from accessibility, seemingly for the sake of experimentation.

If Schmitt’s statement on Savages is that he doesn’t feel a need to please anyone but himself, he may have done just that. All in all, the album has a few bright spots that highlight the group’s affinity for crafting catchy pop songs while remaining stubbornly unwilling to embrace that very knack.

That is to say, Savages sounds very much like a Breathe Carolina album. Pick out a few of the bangers and skip the rest. As long as the group chooses to keep eager listeners at an arm’s distance, this is likely the best we’ll get.

2.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.