Blaqk Audio – Beneath the Black Palms (Album Review)

Nothing beats a good surprise. On July 28th, Electronic duo Blaqk Audio delighted fans with an unannounced release of side A of their new album Beneath the Black Palms. In addition to those five tracks, fans received more good news: the entire album would be available August 21st. Entirely recorded, mixed, and produced by Blaqk Audio, Beneath the Black Palms embraces a myriad of ’80s, ’90s, and contemporary influences to create a fun, dance-y record that finds the band traversing new territories.

Despite releasing their previous Only Things We Love in March of 2019, it seems vocalist Davey Havok and keyboard/synth-master Jade Puget are not wasting any time making new music. If those names seem familiar, that is because Havok and Puget make up one half of the legendary AFI. Blaqk Audio is much more than an AFI side project, though. Since their first record CexCells (2006), the band have released multiple LPs, nearly all of which have topped the US Dance charts.

Beneath the Black Palms is what Havok calls a “bird sister” to Only Things We Love, and the two records do share some similarities. However, Black Palms explores some new moods and sounds that are at once both darker and more playful than anything we have heard before. One glance at the candy store bright neons and black silhouettes of the album cover will clue listeners in to what the band is going for.

Opening track “Consort” feels familiar. The deep, driving synths and quick tempo could fit right in on Only Things We Love. This track acts like a lure, drawing listeners in before the real fun begins with “Zipper Don’t Work” and “1948.” Neither song sounds much like anything Blaqk Audio has offered before. They also could not be more different from one another, and yet they are easily some of the album’s best. “Zipper Don’t Work” is bold; it’s stacked with layers of quick synths and keys, over which Havok insists “focus on me.” Gladly.

Things slow down with “1948,” swapping out the heavy industrial feel of the previous tracks for a  lush, hazy sound that takes a big step into Dream Pop territory. Favoring seductive whispers and clean vocals, “1948” shifts the focus more toward Havok’s vocals. He gets to show off his incredible range here, making it one of Beneath the Black Palms  most memorable and experimental offerings.

Following the aggressive vocal layers and chugging Industrial synths of lead single “Hiss,” Side B starts off by feeling like a completely different record. Tracks like the standout “Fish Bite” and “I’m Coming Over” are bright and airy, but the dark tones of “Tired Eyes” bring it all back around.

Musically, Beneath the Black Palms  sways between moods, going from intense to playful and back again. These shifts make the album lack a feeling of cohesion overall, though that is not to its detriment. Lyrically, however, Havok carefully weaves each track together with a tone that demands attention. It’s exciting that after so many years of collaborating together on various projects, Puget and Havok can still manage to create music that feels fresh and inspired. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Beneath the Black Palms 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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