AFI’s first album came out in 1995, the year Kendall Jenner, Gabby Douglas, and Post Malone were born. Their debut marked the start of two decades worth of albums, reinventions, and side projects, including Blaqk Audio. Twenty-four years after AFI’s beginnings, lead singer Davey Havok and guitarist Jade Puget (joined in 1998) continue to release new material. Their latest, Only Things We Love, proves they still got it.
Only Things We Love incorporates elements of 1980’s electronic pop and the moody modern electro of today. It strongly resembles the trends and sounds of today, so don’t expect it to introduce you to an entirely new mode of musical thinking. Thankfully, the longtime band members keep it entertaining with their sharp sense of melody and lyrical savviness. A title like “Dark Arcades” is just fine wordplay.
Their intro-game remains as strong as ever on “Infinite Skin”. Packed with the seriousness of the Pet Shop Boys mixed with the rush of “Maniac”, it launches the album’s visceral thrill for danger. Lyrically, Only Things We Love finds itself both celebrating and falling victim to its objects of affection. Caught in the throes of a turbulent relationship, Havok often relishes in it. His yen for danger enhances the record’s personality, but at times you get a little put-off by the constant overlap between areas as different as “killing” and “kissing”.
One gets the impression Havok is a serious fellow; he chose veganism before it was cool and opens songs with lines like “warn your warmth to turn away”. Depending on the verse, Havok intonates with a bit of a formal edge. It’s always lent his music, especially Blaqk Audio’s, an authoritative aura that suits someone leading a dance floor. The higher and faster he sings, the more he embodies the pop-punk chant of the ’00s, “Maker” and “Summer’s Out of Sight” both stand as examples.
But the seriousness belies a streak of jokes and quips about cats, which pop up in both “Dark Times at the Berlin Wall” and “Muscle and Matter”. It reminds you that, quite often, Blaqk Audio is less roar and more “rawr”.
There’s less dramatic piano this time around, a bit of a letdown to be sure. Blaqk Audio succeeds when going for the melodic over the bombastic. Speaking with Billboard, Havok called “The Viles” the most “pure EDM track” put out by Blaqk Audio, and thank your stars for that. Instead of menace or intimidation, the clomping beat comes across as a bit sophomoric – had they stayed with the subtle but still-driving percussion that opens the track, they might’ve accomplished something more worthwhile. Later cut “Enemies Forever” suffers a similar fate, too noisy to enjoy but too nondescript to be remembered. By the end, the production lightens a little more on “Matrimony and Dust”, though the song details the somber, and perhaps tragic, end of a partnership.
Overall, Only Things We Love solidifies Blaqk Audio’s talents while showcasing how they fit into the current climate. As alternative rock and hip-hop overlap through Soundcloud rappers, Blaqk Audio highlights an alt-rock pivot towards electronic music. The effect is decently entertaining, but it should impress you that musicians with 20-plus years are willing to keep taking risks in their artistic journey.