It’s difficult to tell whether Blaqk Audio’s music is intended to be taken seriously or not. The New Order synths and dance beats imply a certain degree of self-awareness, but Davey Havok’s wildly emotive vocals suggest sincerity. Whilst overtly theatrical, Havok and Jade Puget’s work with AFI has always been relatively serious, and it seems fair to assume their work as Blaqk Audio is supposed to be taken similarly. Unfortunately, Material falls apart when it tries to stretch for meaning, instead of simply indulging in luscious synthesisers.
The most immediate contemporary comparison Material draws is that of Hot Fuss-era Killers. Whilst that album’s sense of outlandish drama is fully present here, Blaqk Audio lack the band’s gift for noir-ish shlock. Where The Killers sang about murder and cheating girlfriends that looked like boyfriends, Havok sings about heartbreak and existential dread. Lead single Anointed cruises on a grinding bassline and synthetic drums in the verses, before suddenly switching into glittery, bombastic EDM synths in the chorus. Havok sings about his religion – “you are anointed boy / reach out, I will bow down” – but when accompanied by the aforementioned synths it just sounds overblown. The lyrics largely resemble preaching, but Havok’s style lacks the subtlety or charisma to pull it off.
Graphic Violence, in the second half of the album, is a troubling song. It’s lyrics concern fantasies of what sound like domestic abuse – “I would like to see you begging, barely breathing” – but are sung over music so bright and sparkly it makes Passion Pit look restrained. Whilst it’s possible the band was going for a subversive S&M effect, it merely comes across as a twisted riff on Reservoir Dogs-style torture porn, glorifying violence. Even when the lyrics are more generic, Havok’s melodies don’t often elevate the instrumentals in the way they need to. He does an admirably operatic job on I’m a Mess, easily the strongest track on the album, but outside of the chorus hook, it’s unremarkable.
Material may have a few catchy songs, but that can’t make up for its garish, often questionable tone, and the entirely derivative nature of the sounds. The album’s mishmash of New Order retro-stylings, with emo vocals and Aviici-esque bombast, never rises above its influences. Blaqk Audio have a gift for catchy melody, but without strong lyrics and interesting instrumentals, Material is a struggle to get through.