The Black Queen
For Los Angeles’ The Black Queen, the depths of isolation and loss have always functioned as a gateway to being born anew. Much has transpired since the band released their cold, cutting debut album Fever Daydream (a record that Revolver described as “a haunting exploration of the darker side of pop music”). But throughout it all, the trio of Greg Puciato (former frontman of the now-defunct The Dillinger Escape Plan), Joshua Eustis (of Telefon Tel Aviv, Puscifer, and Nine Inch Nails), and Steven Alexander Ryan (technician for Nine Inch Nails, Kesha, and A Perfect Circle) have emerged as triumphant and intense as ever, documenting their journey via the synth-streaked industrial anthems of their sophomore release, Infinite Games.
Formed in 2011 after a chance meeting between Puciato and Eustis backstage at a Dillinger show in which they both realized they were huge fans of each other’s work, The Black Queen became a labor of love for its members to explore sounds and emotions that they couldn’t quite fit into their full-time projects. Injecting a pained, twilit edge into slick new-wave tracks as fit for the dance floor as they are for some imagined dystopian skyline, the trio have managed to channel their scattered, eclectic influences into a surprisingly cohesive vision. “We’ve got a pretty weird cross section,” Puciato says of the band’s musical chemistry. “We can go out for food and listen to Power Trip on the way there, then Baltimore club music on the way back, and then talk about how killer Maxwell’s Embrya album was, and then get sidetracked and talk about the Celeste video game soundtrack, then all have to be quiet so that we can grab a voice recording of some weird sounding radio interference. It’s all over the place and unusually far reaching, and there’s a lot of passion for discovery.”
After releasing their 2016 debut album Fever Daydream to critical acclaim however, the trio underwent several major upheavals that cast the project in a completely new light. Puciato’s main project The Dillinger Escape Plan disbanded. Chris Cornell of Soundgarden killed himself while Puciato was on tour with him. Eustis put out music under his beloved Telefon Tel Aviv moniker for the first time since his former bandmate Charles Cooper died in 2009. The trio’s storage space was robbed. Puciato suffered a relapse into crippling anxiety and paranoia. Once again, in the face of tragedy, The Black Queen had to rebuild everything from the ground up.
The first step was acquiring a new studio space, which immensely helped the band get back into the rhythm of freely collaborating with one another, and experimenting with sounds for as long (and as loud) as they wanted. The resulting album, Infinite Games, marks a massive leap forward for The Black Queen. Not only are the band’s icy R&B instincts more sharply pronounced; they’ve also rendered their morbid electronics in more lush detail than ever before, filling out the corners of their songs with chilling ambient passages that create a wide-screen backdrop for Puciato’s eerie, tortured vocals. “I think this album is actually hookier, but more insidious in that it reveals itself over time,” Puciato says about Infinite Games. His choice of words says something about the album’s creeping, pitch-black approach to pop music.
With this release, the group have also announced a new undertaking in the form of their new label, Federal Prisoner. Resisting the more marketing-centric approach that feels standard at this point for the record label game, the goal of Federal Prisoner is to provide an outlet for projects that emerge naturally from The Black Queen’s own creative endeavors and collaborations with other artists. In a way, Federal Prisoner solidifies TBQ’s commitment to creating music on their own terms, following the same organic sense of inspiration that led them to forming in the first place. As Puciato puts it, “It’s just an expression of passion and individualism in a way that opens more doors for us to create and to own what we create with minimal compromise. It’s as much an act of refusal as it is a statement of intent.”
Uniform formed in New York City in late 2013 when old friends Ben Greenberg (Hubble, The Men, Pygymy Shrews) and Michael Berdan (York Factory Complaint, Drunkdriver, Believer/Law) realized they lived on the same street. Their impulsive collaboration quickly yielded Our Blood / Of Sound Mind and Body single. The six tracks that comprise the equally abrasive but more refined Perfect World have been coming together between tours and work ever since.
The music that Greenberg and Berdan conjure up under the Uniform moniker is immediate, aggressive, and even primal in form, but it plumbs untold depths. Berdan’s venomous voice mines deeply personal themes of resentment, regret, reflection and addiction over the hum of Greenberg’s almost impossibly disciplined guitar, bass synth, and drum machine lines. Greenberg uses the word “templatized” to describe their approach to writing songs for Uniform.
“There’s this set bunch of gear to create sounds, and it only creates sound through a certain process, or within its own limitations,” Greenberg said. “The goal of songwriting is to see how many different kinds of sounds you can get from the same basic process and machine.”
On Perfect World, that machine is firing on all cylinders. The guitar is run through a cheap ’80s preamp marketed to metal kids. The drum machine is equally no-frills, an Akai XR20 that Greenberg says “most people wouldn’t want to keep around.” These humble components are combined with noisy synth and Berdan’s profound howling to form something much greater. Post-punk, synthpunk, and industrial traditions are borrowed from as needed, but the constraints placed on the process mean the result is unique to Uniform. Berdan describes his lyrics as the consequence of feeling “so full of pain, confusion, deep selfishness, and general animosity that you make some horrible mistakes and have to learn how to forgive yourself for them.” Perfect World feels like the sum of all that pain and confusion, but it also feels like the catharsis.
SRSQ (pronounced seer-skew) is the solo project of Kennedy Ashlyn (vocalist/keyboardist of Them Are Us Too). Creative voids aren’t filled, but rather holes left that push the edges of the present into new realms of consciousness. SRSQ’s pulse began after the death of Kennedy’s closest friend and TAUT collaborator Cash Askew, a casualty in the sudden and tragic Oakland Ghost Ship Fire of 2016. Driven by loss, SRSQ became the vehicle for Kennedy’s transformative process, exploring nuance, nostalgia, reflection, and reconciliation, manifesting in the aural landscape of 'Unreality,' her stunning debut on LA's remarkable Dais Records label.