ALBUM REVIEW: AFI – Bodies
Photo Credit: Jacob Boll
“Every album is an opportunity to show people a snapshot of our evolution,” says bassist Hunter Burgan. This statement of intent is what Northern Californian band AFI have been living by for the past thirty years of their influential career. Crawling out of the depths of the US underground hardcore punk scene in the early 90’s, AFI defied expectations with every release, derived from their deep back catalogue of albums. Rooted in their hardcore punk origins, the band’s first full-length Answer That And Stay Fashionable found their feet in straight-edge subculture. By the time the band’s fourth studio album Black Sails In The Sunset rolled around, AFI’s artistry saw a sonic shift, riding on the high melodic emo. Early noughties efforts Sing The Sorrow and Decemberunderground differed massively from 90’s AFI, as the mainstream masses picked up on their rising popularity, catapulting the Californian collective into the punk-inclined public’s consciousness, alongside the two albums that came with them at the time.
This album-by-album evolution kept AFI at the forefront of alternative rock music, with following works Crash Love, Burials and The Blood Album. Now, their recently released eleventh studio album Bodies, out via Rise Records, showcases a moment in AFI’s career much similar to their previous ten releases, taking the noisiest version of punk music and mixing it with brooding emotions and polished synths.
Returning with their first full-length in four years, the Bodies album cycle began with a string of double singles. The first, Twisted Tongues/Escape From Los Angeles finds AFI travelling back to a time where the emergence of new wave music was prominent, while the revival of punk bands poured out into popular music. The first verse of Twisted Tongues comes very much off the back of The Blood Album’s traditional gothic rock atmosphere, where Davey Havok’s menacing tone a prescient warning of the world’s impending doom: “We watched the world/Turn itself backwards”. The track taps into the post-punk elements ingrained in the 2017 record too, characterised by Hunter Burgan’s pulsating basslines and Adam Carson’s pounding drums, which carry the prominent rhythm section through like post-punk does best.
Meanwhile, Escape From Los Angeles leans into the band’s not so surprising inclinations to incorporate new wave sounds onto the album. Radiant synthesisers act as a clever cover for the song’s contradictory lyrics that long to leave the city of LA, where it’s not all just glitz and glam, but instead dichotomous and dualistic: “They must not hear what you are about to say/Or we may never get away/Come close, whisper, if you are about to say/“I’ve gotta get out of L.A.”
Dulceria/Far Too Near are up next in the long line of pre-record releases. The first, Dulceria, which was co-written alongside The Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, contains some sleek songwriting, a true testament to the talent of Corgan and the band. Sonically, Dulceria is slinky and velvet smooth, a dazzling dance floor filler with an almost electronic-rock-meets-disco vibe, where Havok’s smooth vocals sing some stellar lines – “I saw sugar there, dancing in the sweet air/When my eyes began to hurt/I spun sugared air, twisted up in your hair/That you’d burn before you’d flirt” and “I love you more, here on the floor” – which take centre stage. If you thought that bass guitar in Looking Tragic was too damn good, Dulceria takes the groove and turns it up even more.
Far Too Near once again nods to the nostalgic sounds of 80’s indie-rock and punk, found throughout the band’s 2017 self-titled effort and every other AFI album dating back fifteen years or so. Booming drums open the track, before the six-stringed electric guitar gets a go in the spotlight with its retro sounding riffs, overshadowing the bass in its introduction. But it’s not long after that Burgan’s funky bass finds its way back in from the first verse onwards.
It’s not until the record reaches track number four with the retro rollicking On Your Back, which is also the shortest song on the album clocking in at a swift two minutes twenty, that the deep cuts start playing. Other previously unheard tracks include the intensely dark The Cure-like Back From The Flesh, the swinging new wave jangle reminiscent of The Smiths in Death Of The Party, and the Buzzcocks-esque punk-rock/powerpop anthem No Eyes.
Produced by AFI’s own Jade Puget, mixed by Tony Hoffer (Phoemix, Silversun Pickups) and mastered by Vlado Meller (Oasis, Pink Floyd), Looking Tragic/Begging For Trouble prove to be some of the most pristine cuts production-wise. Looking Tragic looks nothing of the kind, bouncing to life with boundless bass energy – ultimately an upbeat groover of a well-produced tune.
On the other hand, Begging For Trouble, whilst having that prominent bassline run throughout, is a more downbeat number that deals with the loss of hope at the first signs of a failing relationship. But the shimmering synths in its chorus capture some glistening sounds amongst its gloomy lyrics, such as “Just for fun, my vibrant one, grow old/With dying suns my vibrant one’s grown cold” and “You grow cold as you wait for me in the night, as you struggle/You’ll wait for me, for you asked for trouble.”
Whilst it might be the album’s closer, the delicately haunting Tied To A Tree is the last in the line-up of seven singles. Tied To A Tree is a sombre, stripped-back acoustic, complete with tension building verses and choruses that impact with a dark, eerie intensity. The track is a prime example of the band’s evolution, showing their ability to take their emo and gothic-rock roots of the past, transitioning them through to the present.
On Bodies, AFI continue to leave an unquestionable legacy. Striking the balance between their early punk-rock roots and their synth driven new wave, the record is embellished with polished production, divine basslines and distinctive vocals from front to back, a sign of a band embracing the old and the new. Thirty years on and a whole lot of longevity, AFI are continuing to evolve in the most dramatic fashion on Bodies.
Standout Tracks: Twisted Tongues, Dulceria, Far Too Near, Escape From Los Angeles, Begging For Trouble, Back From The Flesh, Looking Tragic, No Eyes
For Fans Of: Alkaline Trio, Pennywise, Rise Against
Written by: Katie Conway-Flood