Historically, it’s always seemed to be difficult for Blaqk Audio to get their foot in the door. Even with the star power of AFI’s Davey Havok and Jade Puget serving as the project’s masterminds, their brand of darkwave-touched synthpop has never gelled as well as it maybe should, falling deeply out of favour with rock critics who gravitated towards it seemingly out of obligation, and pretty much ignored by anyone else. But that’s also because Blaqk Audio as a project have never been all that great; compared to how effortlessly Greg Puciato slipped into a similar, arguably more complex electronic guise with The Black Queen, Havok and Puget have often felt less comfortable with such a transition, and it’s been reflected in output that’s never really stuck or has just felt generally underwhelming. On the bright side though, Havok has at least been on a streak of quality with his work lately – AFI seem to be back on track and Dreamcar’s debut from a couple of years ago is still a lot of fun to revisit – so maybe Blaqk Audio can be given a similar treatment on Only Things We Love.
Except they aren’t. If AFI’s career has been uneven up to now, Only Things We Love can practically be heard teetering under its own weight given how much the duo try to throw onto it in order to simply make something happen. And as can be expected, these run a pretty sizable gamut, spanning from decent, goth-tinged synthpop tracks to ideas that most definitely should’ve been left on the drawing broad. It goes without saying that it’s a mixed bag, and not exactly a flattering one either, as Blaqk Audio desperately try to shunt things into place but end up with a messy, half-formed album on their hands that, very often, just refuses to work.
It’s definitely easy to see their intentions as well, and in terms of cultivating an austere, gothic atmosphere, they can manage with dark, heady synths and Havok’s very pronounced vocal style to enhance his more theatrical baritone. On the other hand though, when an album’s intention is the only thing that it can consistently pull off without a hitch, that’s hardly a good sign, and even in good moments, Blaqk Audio seldom deliver much at all. The extremely tight knock of OK Alex and Enemies Forever has some great surging momentum, and for as chintzy and rough as the swirling synths on Maker can be, that bigger, emotional swell has always paired well with Havok’s vocals. But that’s where the first major issue comes in, namely how astonishingly cheap and lacking in significant depth the production here can feel. It’s rare to find a synth tone here that has the big-room swell of the electronica that Blaqk Audio are clearly trying to emulate, instead defaulting to chugging, blaring static on Muscle And Matter and Dark Arcades, or what sounds like a collection of GarageBand live loops on The Viles. It can be uncomfortable to listen to, with scratchy, underweight tones that really don’t have that much to offer, a constant that sounds even worse when transposed to the indie-rock outlier Summer’s Out Of Sight.
Moreover, this just isn’t an album that goes anywhere all that often. At the very least, lyrics that carry very broad archetypes of gothic imagery and romances can be glossed over (electronic music like this never tends to rely too heavily on lyricism, and it’s not like Blaqk Audio’s contributions are significantly worse than anyone else’s), but this is a slow, grinding listen that rarely picks up into any satisfying clip. Being as forgettable as it is doesn’t help, but when an early track like Unstained with its leaden thud of a progression heralds a sound that’s used far too much to produce anything of much worth, it can be difficult to be grabbed by what’s on offer. It has moments of what would appear to be quality becoming more of a defining factor, but even they feel like flukes when the bigger picture is considered, on an album that lacks anything close to the power that electronic music should have.
Put all of that together, and it becomes abundantly clear what Blaqk Audio’s main issue is at this stage – four albums in, they still don’t know what they’re doing. The intention is admirable, but if it wasn’t so clearly telegraphed in the most obvious way, this would be an act spluttering uncontrollably as they try to make something of an incredibly limited skill set. Only Things We Love might have its moments where Blaqk Audio latch onto something that can bring a cool idea into fruition, but with how infrequently that happens, each one feels incredibly fluked. And thus, this ends up as an album with little to really say and few interesting ways of saying it, something which mightn’t be a rarity for Blaqk Audio, but that really doesn’t excuse anything.
For fans of: The Birthday Massacre, Innerpartysystem, Shiny Toy Guns
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Only Things We Love’ by Blaqk Audio is released on 15th March on Kobalt Music Group.