Electronic offshoot of rock outfit AFI produce energetic, poignant fusion of emo and techno music
Country rap, alternative metal, electronicore–these are just a few of the unlikely genre fusions that have popped up over the past few decades. How about emo techno? Blaqk Audio has people covered. The duo, consisting of Davey Havok and Jade Puget of punk/emo/hardcore rock outfit AFI, has cultivated a distinct blend of angst-laden pop punk and dance house electronic music, and on their fifth studio release Beneath the Black Palms, Havok and Puget produce a diverse, catchy, lyrically poignant collection of cerebral techno tracks.
Havok and Puget began work on Blaqk Audio, the electronic offshoot of AFI, as early as 2001, notching three straight number one debuts on the Billboard Dance Albums Chart with their first three studio albums. On Beneath the Black Palms, the duo continues to meld emo and techno music together, churning out a variety of different sounds that are tied together by Havok and Puget’s poignant and vivid songwriting.
The bulk of Beneath the Black Palms focuses on relationships; more specifically, it’s about feeling trapped between the person one is with and the person one desires to be with. Opening track “Consort” spells this idea out over driving and frantic synthesizers in the vein of ’80s dance music, as Havok sings about his desire to escape “the devil at [his] side,” seemingly representing his current lover.
“Zipper Don’t Work” explores this relationship further. “I cannot understand it/ I wore your favorite dress/ As you went on about it/ I took it off to no digress,” sings Havok in his remarkably emotive vocal style, detailing the feeling of abandonment caused by his partner’s inattentiveness. Havok and Puget keep the synth sound of the previous track, but here, they sound a bit more smooth and sultry.
The track “1948” is even deeper and darker, with a catchy bass synthesizer and some gliding, muted synths making up the bulk of the instrumental. Here, Havok seems to be addressing the person he pines for outside of his current relationship, singing about how they bring an excitement to his life that his current partner doesn’t offer.
“A Distant Light” marks a return to the upbeat, clubby feel of “Consort,” but Havok morphs his voice to sound almost like The B-52s’ Fred Schneider, which meshes somewhat jarringly with the track’s dance house instrumental. On “Hiss,” Havok again switches up his vocalization. On top of an angry synthpop instrumental, his voice sounds guttural and grimy as he describes his intense sexual experiences with images of demons and serpents.
The song “Burnt Babies Fear the Fire” continues to diversify the album’s sound. It’s perhaps the most mainstream offering on the project, but it’s supremely catchy and smooth, as Havok’s soaring vocals seem to mock his partner’s inattentiveness. “Fish Bite” also has that smooth, dreamy feel to it, as Havok seems to be recounting the trials and tribulations of coming out to family members that won’t accept him, as well as the love and support he’s found within the LGBTQ+ community.
“Bird Sister” brings back some intensity with a varied mix full of different synthesizer sounds and powerful percussion. Likewise, “I’m Coming Over” is a tense, sultry song in the vein of Linkin Park. Havok switches out some of the synthesizers for guitars, as he begs to his desired partner to let him in, pleading, “you know you’re my only home.”
The track “Tired Eyes” is reminiscent of a Tears for Fears song, with its huge ’80s synthesizer sound and dark mood, as Havok longs to rescue a lover whom he believes has fallen into darkness. Meanwhile, on album closer “It’s Not Going Well,” Blaqk Audio opt for stripped-back verses and full-sounding, synth-laden choruses. Havok wraps things up by drawing parallels between the relationship of the person he pines after and his own.
What Havok and Puget accomplish on Beneath the Black Palms is more than just a satisfying fusion of emo and techno music. It’s a sprawling story of love, betrayal, lust and neglect, spun over a diverse array of electronic tracks that range from club-ready bangers to cerebral, dreamy anti-ballads. Through Havok’s vulnerable and angst-filled vocals, the emotional qualities of Beneath the Black Palms shine through with clarity. And when paired with Havok and Puget’s exciting, driving, pulsing mixes, they have a head-nodding allure that makes the project’s lyrical cadences easily digestible. On Beneath the Black Palms, Havok and Puget’s foray into electronica yields compelling results sonically, but the added lyrical finesse on the project sets it above the rest.