Release Date: August 21st, 2020
AFI’s Davey Havok and Jade Puget broke new ground when they introduced Blaqk Audio in 2007. Moving away from their punk rock roots, the ambitious project found them exploring their love of dance and electronic music. It was an exciting new experience that shattered your expectations. But over the years their output has been predictable, generic, and bland. 2019’s Only Things We Love was a promising step in a new direction, but it didn’t take long for them to return to their old tricks. Now, the duo is back with Beneath the Black Palms, which is surprisingly their strongest album in years.
Too often Blaqk Audio albums start with a bang and end with a whimper. Most songs are too similar to their past material or feel too generic to stand out. Luckily, their fifth record is more sonically diverse as they blend their electropop sound with dreampop and continue the heavy, EBM direction they teased on their previous release. As always, the songs have earworm hooks and catchy synth, but the change in sound gives each song its own flavor. The heart-pounding “Consort” and the ominous “Hiss” are hard-hitting club bangers with intense, pulsating synth melodies that make it impossible to sit still. “Tired Eyes” is a big, booming track ripped straight from a 90s Gothic nightclub and the enticing “Zipper Don’t Work” is practically an anthem for 2020’s collective sexual frustration.
The second half of the album steers away from the aggressive and explores light, flowy soundscapes. Havok is flirtatious on the slinky “I’m Coming Over,” which is closer to the electropop the duo is known for and album closer “It’s Not Going Well” is irresistible with its glistening synth arrangements and seductive vocals. “Fish Bite” feels serene with its bright synth chimes and playful tone and “Bird Sister” takes you back to the 80s with its big booming drums and intense electro-synth hook that’ll be stuck in your head for days. Unlike their past efforts, the songs are distinct, memorable, and just damn good. None of them feel generic or a repeat of what they’ve done before. Rather than rely on their tried and true formula, the duo gives us a fresh take on their brand of electropop with elements of heavy EBM, mellow dreampop, and hyper 80s synthpop for a fun, dark record that gets you dancing from start to finish.
Beneath the Black Palms is a moody, yet seductive record full of anthems that’ll make you long for sweaty nightclubs we’ve been deprived of. The focus on EBM and dreampop gives it a more diverse sound. It stands out from past albums thanks to the darker, heavier sound, yet the Blaqk Audio hallmarks – catchy hooks, infectious synth melodies, and Havok’s tantalizing vocals – are still intact. After years of treading the same ground, Blaqk Audio have finally given us a new experience that reminds you what made them so good in the first place.