You know, there’s a lot of bitching these days about bands who’s sound has changed. It’s too soft, it’s too heavy, why don’t they sound like they did 10-20 years ago? It’s exhausting and an incredibly redundant stance to take on music in general. Change is inevitable in all things, and music is one of the greatest ever-evolving forces of change on this entire planet of ours. I won’t lie and say I have never been somewhat taken aback by an aggressive and vast change of sound when’s it taken place from one mere album to the next. I can honestly see how this may be alarming that a band had developed an identity through a sound they had become synonymous with after so many releases, then with no indication of a newfound direction, almost emerge as an entirely new band with the same name on the newest of albums. But if a band has progressed in a natural way throughout the years; taking away some elements used in the past, adding new ones, mixing in aspects of a multitude of genres and stylings on each and every album, especially when spaced out across decades…well then there’s no cause for alarm, now is there? When a band can so seamlessly switch themselves up, yet always retain what makes them so…them, that is something to marvel and cherish. Which brings me to the band (and album) in review; AFI. This is a group who have almost never released the same album twice in a career that spans nearly three decades, which in and of itself is quite a feat. Assuredly they are a far way from their horror punk beginnings, and yet they’ve never once lost any of the qualities that make them the one and only AFI. With their upcoming album, Bodies, the group is set yet again to reinvent themselves in a way that feels nothing less than purely legitimate and logical from where they’ve come over the years. As I previously stated, I can’t say that I’ve never found a bands (sometimes seemingly) new direction in sound to be abrupt and almost a tad shocking, but AFI have never been one of those bands for me. The sound of Bodies makes perfect sense to me. Even say starting at an album like Black Sails in the Sunset, then jumping to say either Sing the Sorrow or Deceberunderground, then to Burials, and eventually landing where we are now. Each album’s new elements only took from aspects of each album before instead of instantly a change from heavier punk to danceable pop. Furthermore, I have to say that Bodies feels as if even though there are touches of so much of AFI’s past, it’s also an amalgamation of Davey Hovok’s other music endeavors. For instance, I could easily have seen track’s like “Escape From Los Angeles” or “Dulceria” on the DREAMCAR debut, and I can personally hear tinges of Blaqk Audio on a song like “Death Of The Party”. Whether any of this was the bands intention or merely what my ears are picking up, it was a more than welcome way that I naturally perceived much of Bodies.
Genre: Alternative | Pop | Punk
Label: Ex Noctem Nacimur Music | Rise Records
FLOW/ LONGEVITY / ORIGINALITY
One thing I’ve definitely always admired about the lads in AFI is their apparent and consistent attention to detail. If you were to take a fine-tooth comb through almost every aspect of their music (especially from Sing the Sorrow onward), it is more than obvious that no stone was left unturned in any album’s creation. That of course is included in, but not limited to, the order of the track list. This is a far more important thing than I think most of us even give it credit for. Don’t get me wrong, I know I am far from the first listener to pick up on what I think is the best order of songs on any given album. I have had various conversations on what friends, and I have thought worked and what didn’t. But in far more discussions that specific topic wasn’t even close to being broached once even briefly. It absolutely matters though! It can affect the entire listening experience. So, when you begin an album with a song that has a thunderous drum roll, a quickly strummed guitar, and words sung in a manner which (without screaming) scream ‘pay attention to what I’m about to tell you’ with the song “Twisted Tongues”…well you’ve already garnered every listener’s full attention and begun the recipe for a completely fluid and enjoyable playthrough from beginning to end. One thing that most songs share on Bodies is they are of a faster pace, and almost all contribute a common alternative rock or dance-like pop vibe. Whether it’s the foot-tapping alternative diddy with “Far Too Near”, the retro feel, backlit by neon lights essence of “Escape From Los Angeles”, or the beachy-punk elements of “No Eyes”, you do get a similar feel from most songs. But with precision-like placement there are those tracks that give off an entirely different feel. Like the haunting nature of “Back From The Flesh” or earthy-acoustic touch of album closer “Tied To A Tree”. These songs do not come as a complete shock as they are placed in a way that will make sense to the listener’s ear and feel only like a welcome switch-up and addition.
For me, Bodies, much like so many other AFI albums will have an insane level of stay power. Admittedly I did not fully get into the band until the Sing the Sorrow days, and yet I go back to each and every album from time to time. I’ve gone so far as to make my own playlist of what I consider my close personal favorites from over the years. And while There’s so much that I go back to and so much I can take from all albums, Bodies is honestly one of the first where there wasn’t even one song, I’d leave off said playlist.
While I do hear aspects of many Davey-fronted acts on this album, I still find it to be so purely AFI. Perhaps I am coming from a biased position, but as I have said before there’s just something so unique about this band. So, yea, I do find it to be originally them, if not so much separate from other acts in small details of the overall sound. I’d be lying if I said I thought anyone might not pick up details from bands in other similar veins of genre. But I’ll be getting to one gigantic aspect that does make this band so profoundly THEM in the very next section.
VOCALS / INSTRUMENTATION
And here we are. The vocals. I dare anyone to tell me they know of any other vocalist that sounds much of anything like Davey Havok. I myself have listened to an almost infinite number of bands and singers and have yet to find anyone who even bears the slightest resemblance in sound to him. Now, this can be a good or bad thing depending on the perspective of the listener but seeing as I’m an avid fan of almost all of AFI’s works and one of the resounding reasons being his voice…well, I think you know my take on it already then. Davey is a vocalist that in my eyes has ONE of the greatest ranges in modern rock of any kind. He can croon so deeply that he borders on the baritone or sing so soft and faintly that one could almost wonder if it is simply a chosen style or something he’s attempting to mimic within another vocalist’s chosen sound. On “Dulceria” he uses a style during the verses which at times is almost a tad feminine, but one could assume it’s more to convey an emotion when tied into the nature of the lyrics. During the verses of “Escape From Los Angeles” there is a touch of a gravelly rasp tied to the end of almost every sentence giving the listener a nostalgic touch of past songs which were a bit more aggressive in overall sound. Without a doubt Davey’s voice is ONE of the things that make AFI like no other.
Bodies more than almost any other AFI album has a seriously fun feel to the overall sound of the instrumentation. There are the typical guitar, drums, and bass but much like past albums they incorporate the use of a vast array of other nonconventional additions. As per usual Jade Puget shines on the keyboard on a track like “On Your Back” and what sounds like could be a synthesizer in moments on “Death Of The Party”. Drummer Adam Carson rarely has a moment where he isn’t giving it his all, whether it be the dance-inducing bop of his rhythm on “Begging For Trouble”, or his cascading drum rolls in “Twisted Tongues”. But in my humble opinion, the star of the show on this outing is bassist Hunter Burgan. The band have never been shy of showcasing his incredible talent, and yet he is on the forefront of so many shining moments throughout Bodies. His 80’s dancehall twang on “Dulceria”, his plucky, head-bop with “On Your Back”, or his fingers scrolling all over the fretboard on “Looking Tragic” all stand out in an absolutely stellar way.
COMPOSITON / PRODUCTION
The way in which AFI have universally combined all of their talents and attributes on Bodies is perhaps the most cohesive and thoughtful they’ve ever been in this writer’s opinion. Sure, they may have scaled back on some of the heavily layered textures used on past songs like “Death of Seasons”, “Love Like Winter”, “I Hope You Suffer”, or “She Speaks the Language”, but never has the band sounded as if they had such a specific direction and feel for any given album and followed through from front to back. AFI are one of those rare bands that can pull influences of multiple genres and place them throughout an album, but this is one of the first times they’ve done that, and everything still feels like it so perfectly fits. The vocals match the emotion of each note, the vibe of the song matches the (albeit obscure in obvious definition at times) meanings behind the lyricism. It all feels like one well oiled-machine and that’s due to everything working together so well in perfect (yet at times chaotic in nature) harmony.
The production matches perfectly with the feel of the album. This is one of the more straightforward sounding albums for the group. ‘It’s a rock song’, ‘it’s a pop inspired song’…and the production mirrors the sound. Crisp and clean when needed, moody and foggy when applicable. It all works just so damn well.
AFI truly are a band that has come so far from where they first began. From being a mostly horror punk group to now a band which could replicate or mirror themselves to any genre they chose, and yet this happened naturally over the years instead of a quick snap overnight. As someone who is in their mid-thirties and who’s musical tastes of changed and evolved throughout my years, I have been along for the ride since almost the beginning and never once waivered in my love for this band. And that is namely due to the progression that the band has taken so seamlessly from one release to the next. I’m certain that there are the fans who fear AFI are too far of a cry from who they resembled even a few albums ago, but in saying that I have no doubt that there will be something for all types of fans to find within Bodies.