Personnel: Davey Havok (vocals).
Audio Mixer: Beau Burchell.
Illustrator: Donny Phillips.
Photographer: Chris Sorenson.
Since their debut in 2007, Blaqk Audio -- the electronic outlet for AFI's Davey Havok and Jade Puget -- have toyed with the dance sounds and dark tones of new wave. For their third LP, Material, they extend the lease on their Depeche Mode hero worship and also incorporate the spirits of other '80s acts. Whereas CexCells sounded menacing and sexy, and sophomore Bright Black Heaven added more goth-EBM elements, Material brightens Blaqk Audio with a newly polished sheen and brightness, like a leather-clad glitter rave. However, despite bouncy explosions of pulsing dance beats -- like on the shimmering "Ceremonial (Burst Into Stars)" and the glossy Eurodance of "I'm a Mess" -- Havok's lyrics are grim, lovelorn, and full of pain. This emotion anchors Material in something more tangible than simple dancefloor filler. Highlights like heart-swelling "First to Love" and the desperate goth-disco of the title track -- where Havok laments "I am all alone with my beautiful things" -- can inspire tears as much as body rocking. Nods to the duo's bleaker origins can also be found in the shadows that offer respite from the dance party. The lurching "Anointed" manages to draw the iciness of Trent Reznor's creepier NIN/HTDA tracks through a Depeche Mode filter. Reznor's influence also seethes through "Black at the Center," which sounds like "Hurt" sung by Tears for Fears. "Curious Friends" delivers Devo and Kraftwerk via Havok's robotic delivery and Puget's persistent pulsing. "Graphic Violence" -- despite the dramatic title and lyrics -- is "Blue Monday" done by Empire of the Sun. All these combinations work well on Material: Puget's focus and skill for crafting interestingly textured soundscapes has grown razor-sharp, while Havok's dramatic delivery has developed more specifically for this project, no longer sounding simply like AFI at an underground rave. Material amps up the intensity more than their previous albums, employing emotional extremes in order to inspire feeling, which introduces new depth to the Blaqk Audio catalog. Though the lyrics drip with crushing hopelessness and desperation, it's hard to tell beneath the thumping electronics. The album ends on a high with "You Will Hate Me," which resembles a Swedish House Mafia remix of the Pet Shop Boys covering Robyn. Once again, despite such a bleak title, the track blazes. Material is the black celebration that Depeche Mode foresaw, sparkling party music for the downcast masses. ~ Neil Z. Yeung