The Black Queen
Category: Synthpop / Coldwave
Album: Fever Daydream
Blurb: Emotive and expressive songwriting and composition, along with a chilled R&B influence, are at the forefront of this debut from a trio of veteran performers, resulting in what is most assuredly one of the best albums of the year.
When Greg Puciato, vocalist for experimental metal act The Dillinger Escape Plan, first worked with members of the Nine Inch Nails camp, it was with Atticus Ross on his Error project with Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz. While Puciato was considered a guest vocalist, the EP featured a spastic and vitriolic brand of digital hardcore well suited to his dynamic vocal antics. Naturally, one would assume that The Black Queen, his new collaboration with NIN alumni and Puscifer member Joshua Eustis and Steven Alexander, a former tech for both NIN and The Dillinger Escape Plan, would be in a similar vein, blasting out a mosh-worthy assault of industrialized noise and manic arrangements. Nothing could be further from the truth, as proven by The Black Queen’s auspicious debut album, Fever Daydream; instead, the trio have pursued a less caustic but equally emotionally intense style of electrified pop that merges the members’ collective tastes and talents in a manner most excellent.
Throughout Fever Daydream is a decidedly chilly and surprisingly minimal atmosphere that contrasts with the band’s Los Angeles locale; steely guitars appear now and again amid deceptively simple but powerful drum machines, resonant synths that sound more vintage than anything produced by ‘80s aficionados, and immersive pads create an appropriately feverish haze that evokes a darker, less recognizable version of the city. Interludes like the introductory “Now, When I’m This,” the squelches and stutters that precede the pulsating and ominous cool of “Distanced,” and the reverberating glitches and shimmering dark of “Strange Quark” serve as expository backdrops that only uplift the more vocally driven moments. Anyone who has heard The Dillinger Escape Plan knows his impressive vocal range, but with The Black Queen, his R&B influences come to the fore. For instance on songs like “The End Where We Start,” “Maybe We Should/Non-Consent,” and “Taman Shud,” he demonstrates his skills in singing in the higher registers, giving his melodies the quality of a moody lullaby, all of which gradually rise in intensity to bring listeners to an emotive climax. Other songs like “Secret Scream” and especially “That Death Cannot Touch” achieve a harder, more danceable pace and striking choruses that burst with urgency and poignancy; both would have been excellent singles alongside “Ice to Never,” whose funky bass lines and smooth harmonies are simply too catchy not to get stuck in one’s head for days. Layers of synth, guitar, and vocal harmonies abound on the closing ballad, “Apocalypse Morning,” leaving listeners to awaken from Fever Daydream with a need to return to so magnificent a realm of fantasy.
If Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James were to produce a record written by The Pet Shop Boys in collaboration with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, one might have an approximation of The Black Queen’s edgy brand of R&B-infused synthpop. While acts like Scattle, Perturbator, and Power Glove wallow in their reverence for the ambient style of the ‘80s, producing glitzy soundtracks to a bygone era, The Black Queen’s Fever Daydream somehow manages to capture the dystopic vibrancy of the decade in so pristine a manner to put the imitators to shame. At the same time, its unapologetic focus on composition and expressive songwriting surpasses any notions of nostalgia, making the album sound remarkably fresh and vital. Joshua Eustis and Steven Alexander clearly work well together in crafting their electronic soundscapes, while Greg Puciato – giving perhaps some of the best vocal performances of his life – elevates these songs into pure melodic bliss.