Manhattan Beat: Blaqk Audio, Wives, Hayes Carll, and Ex Hex

Blaqk Audio/The Bowery Ballroom/April 1, 2019

In 2001, Davey Havok and Jade Puget were active members of AFI, but started writing electronic music very unlike AFI. Their intention was to create an entirely electronic side project with vocals, synthesizers, keyboards, drum machines, and software. Increasingly busy with AFI, they returned to the project only in 2006. Blaqk Audio’s debut album was released in 2007 and debuted at #1 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums chart. Blaqk Audio released its fourth and most recent studio album, Only Things We Love, on March 15, 2019.

At the Bowery Ballroom, Blaqk Audio’s music explored and adapted the history of electronic music from the lighter electro-pop of the nineteen-eighties, through the futurepop and bigbeat movements at the turn of the century, and ultimately to the darker EBM and darkwave of the current post-punk scene. The set featured songs from all four Blaqk Audio albums plus a cover of Dead or Alive’s 1984 hit “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record).” Havok sang clearly and worked the audience by endlessly pacing the lip of the stage as Puget provided all the pulsing layers of electronic sound and the heart-racing beats-per-minute. The newer, heavier material showed the band to be not all retro-sounding but also cutting edge. However, the duo also demonstrated the limitations of having one singer and one instrumentalist. Puget’s music had a sometimes uncomfortable chill and Havok’s vocals as the sole organic instrument grew rather repetitious. One can only wonder how much warmer and more exciting the performance might have been had there been more musicians on stage generating live musical interplay and dynamics.


Wives/Mercury Lounge/April 3, 2019

Andrew Bailey, guitarist in DIIV, has a new side band called Wives, based out of Queens. The indie rock quartet teams him with guitarist/vocalist Jay Beach, bassist Alex Crawford, and drummer Adam Sachs. The four musicians had been part of the local DIY scene, performing at house shows and small venues, until one day some remaining studio time booked for another project gave the four musicians an impromptu opportunity to create music together. Satisfied with the results, they committed to forming a band. Wives’ debut album, So Removed, will become available on June 28, 2019.

Wives’ hometown show at Mercury Lounge was a warm-up to the band’s European/U.K. tour in May. The band’s mix of gentle pop vocals, off-kilter indie, raw garage, and guitar-led dissonance was a curious but successful mix. The rather brief set was well-paced, the vocals and vocal harmonies ranged from droll to sensitive, the lyrics seemed to be well-crafted, and the grungy, shimmering guitar leads were engaging. It might be unjust to review a band so early on its path, but this performance was already shooting a clear arrow towards its eventual trajectory, as Wives showed substantial promise.


Hayes Carll/The Bowery Ballroom/April 3, 2019

Hayes Carll was living in the Woodlands, just outside of Houston, when at age 15 he received his first guitar. Almost immediately, he began writing songs influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, and the Beat-era writings of Jack Kerouac. He attended college in Conway, Arkansas, and upon graduating in 1998, he settled in Crystal Beach, Texas, where he played his original songs in the local bars. After a stay in Austin, he returned home to the Galveston/Houston area and gathered a local following through gigs. Slowly and steadily, his work reached larger audiences. After releasing his debut album in 2002, the Houston Press voted Carll as Best New Act. In 2008, his song “She Left Me for Jesus” became the Americana Music Association’s Song of the Year. Four of his songs appeared in the 2010 film Country Strong. American Songwriter awarded him with Song of the Year in 2011. In 2014, Lee Ann Womack scored a minor hit with his song “Chances Are.” In 2016, Kenny Chesney covered Carll’s “Jesus and Elvis.” In 2017, Carll swept the Austin Music Awards with seven wins. Hoping to continue his string of small victories, Carll released his sixth and most recent studio album, What It Is, on February 15, 2019, and recently relocated to Nashville.

At the Bowery Ballroom, Hayes Carll proved that a serious songwriter can be also an engaging performer. Carll sang with a laid-back southern lilt, and his four musicians kept the atmosphere country with pedal steel and mandolin runs, periodically adding a dose of rocking energy to the main root twang. Like many country music lyricists, Carll sang wordy songs about heartaches and good times, yet his clever, witty lyrics occasionally featured a curiously ironic twist. His plainspoken poetry sometimes showed a sarcastic bite, as well. Curiously, Carll seemed to eschew commercial formulas like repetitive one-line choruses and rallying sing-alongs, giving his compositions a cut more integrity. Yet, in addition to the emphasis he put on the intricacies of his lyrical foundation, he built a bond with his audience, sharing amusing anecdotes between songs and generally presenting his personality as lighthearted and playful. In the end, his audience was sold not only on his craft, but also on him as a country comrade.


Ex Hex/The Bowery Ballroom/April 4, 2019

As a youth, Mary Timony studied viola and played guitar in the jazz band at her school in Washington, D.C. In that city, she later became the vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist in Autoclave. She relocated for college to Boston, where she formed the band Helium in 1992. Helium disbanded in 1998, whereupon Timony launched a solo career. Timony moved back to D.C. a few years later. In 2005, Timony released her debut solo album, Ex Hex. She formed Pow Wow in 2009, which became Soft Power, and Wild Flag (featuring Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein) in 2010. After Wild Flag’s breakup, Timony formed Ex Hex in 2013 with bassist Betsy Wright (Fire Tapes, Chain & the Gang) and drummer Laura Harris (Benjy Ferree, The Aquarium). Ex Hex took its name from Timony’s 2005 album and released an album in 2014. After nearly two years of touring behind that album, Wright formed the group Bat Fangs, Harris joined Death Valley Girls, and Timony reissued Helium albums. The band released its second studio album, It’s Real, on March 22, 2019.

Ex Hex appeared at the Bowery Ballroom as a quartet. Drafting touring bassist David Christian allowed Wright to switch to second guitar. This move was so right, evolving the band’s former punk economy to a near arena rock thickness. Drawing from the two Ex Hex albums, many of the songs featured dueling guitars, even with Timony and Wright physically leaning into each other, intertwining their legs as they ripped into extended solos. The energetic set featured light and airy pop vocal melodies and harmonies that contrasted the many jagged, unconventional guitar leads and riffs. The fist-pumping hair-metal power chords remained at the forefront, however. At its core, Ex Hex’s performance was rugged garage rock ‘n’ roll, with mature arrangements lending a somewhat polished gloss to the band’s muscular rave-up mainframe.