Experimental music shouldn’t only be defined by how different it sounds from everything else on the market. Sometimes it’s more about the artist’s journey and the new roads they choose in life and creation. Sometimes it’s about the questions and introspection it inspires in the listener. In other words, you don’t have to play the most unapproachable and unstructured noise to achieve the status of experimental musicianship (not to discredit how awesome that stuff can be). Some of the most groundbreaking sounds are actually arising in pop and dance music right now. Case in point, The Black Queen.
You might not inherently think that a technician that worked with Ke$ha and the frontman of recently disbanded The Dillinger Escape Plan would have much crossover in musical tastes. It’s that exact type of compartmental thinking that forces musicians into familiar roles and predictable patterns. The Black Queen, consisting of Greg Puciato, Joshua Eustis, and Steven Alexander Ryan, is not one of those projects. The Black Queen is like some intricately designed Venn diagram. The members of the electropop trio identified the exact sliver of overlap they all distinctly shared and pushed their writing within that region as tastefully far as possible.
This being their sophomore release, Infinite Games (released September 28, 2018 via Federal Prisoner) represents the group pushing far beyond the gestation phase, and into one of rapid refinement and growth. Imagine attending some grandiose dance party that exclusively invited brainy introverts. Everyone’s afraid to ask each other to dance, but they came to party, and by golly, party they must. It’s not exactly what you’d expect with a historically outlandish front man like Puciato. Maybe that’s the point; never do what’s expected. Sometimes the truly punk thing to do is to make a pop record. Or maybe this is just what he always wanted to do but never found the right vehicle. In any case, it’s refreshing to see Puciato put the screaming aside for a record and focus on the beauteous sides of his vocal range.
There’s a constant juggling of light and darkness throughout the album, analogous to some high contrast pinhole camera photograph. Tracks like “Your Move” stack synth pads into a haunting pillar of sound, accentuated with an oddly warm and deeply reverberated vocal performance floating freely atop. A light pulse of minimalistic percussion presents itself in a seemingly disconnected fashion as if to feel more like one’s own heartbeat than a concrete drum pattern. Ultimately, the track plunges the listener into a highly personal place, if not an entirely isolated one.
In that regard, try listening to this album through a good pair of headphones. Much of the art and experimentation in this record is exemplified in the intertwining of writing and production. Tracks like “Porcelain Hearts” may seem minimalistic on the surface, but if you listen closely, you’ll start to observe the masterful craftsmanship and nuance of Eusits’ and Ryan’s production techniques. The technicality shines not in how many notes can be crammed into a single bar, but rather how far left or right to pan the acoustic guitar, how slowly to fade in a synth pad, or how much reverb to apply to a vocal harmony. The length of the songs themselves were likely scrutinized, tested, and retested until the precisely intended mood was established. As technology in music engineering continues to evolve rapidly, it’s important to consider the production almost as an instrument in of itself. The Black Queen is very much a pioneer of this musical frontier.
The amalgamation of life events that had befallen the group preceding the development of Infinite Games helps contextualize some of the recurring moods in the album. The Dillinger Escape Plan was retiring. Chris Cornell had tragically died by suicide when Puciato was on tour with him. The trio’s storage space had been robbed. Somehow after all of these monumental events, the group was able to keep moving forward. They took their time crafting the record and perfecting their soundscapes. The end result is a highly emotive record that basks in its negative spaces, giving room for some positivity to eventually emerge. It’s a cathartic experience and one that would be virtually impossible to imitate by anyone outside of the group itself. It’s personal, it’s unique, and it’s the epitome of genuine experimentation.
Infinite Games was released September 28, via Federal Prisoner. The group is currently on a world tour promoting the new album.
Words by Andrew Humphrey