Blackstarkids strikes a balance on the infectious ‘Puppies Forever’

The shapeshifting trio opens for Beabadoobee at the Newport on Friday

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive

When the pandemic hit, Blackstarkids continued writing and recording. But the forced stillness, combined with the rising virus cases and a resurgent Black lives matter movement, created a depressive environment that started to bleed into the songs.

“I think when we did Whatever, Man [in 2020] it was just a brighter time, while with [2021 album] Puppies Forever, things felt a little heavier in the world, but also personally, too,” said TyFaizon, who joined bandmates Deiondre and the Babe Gabe for an early December Zoom interview. (The trio visits the Newport for a concert on Friday, Dec. 10, opening for Filipino-British singer-songwriter Beabadoobee.)

This darkness manifests itself in lyrics that confront everything from depression and suicidal thoughts (“I’ve had many thoughts of suicide, but I’m still alive,” the group offers on opener “So Sweet!”) to issues of police injustice on the urgent, fist-pumping pop-punk anthem “All Cops Are Bastards.” "I'm a man so I'ma stand on my beliefs/Blackstarkids is not a friend to no police,” Deiondre sings. “Not lieutenant, not no officer, no sergeant nor the chief/Rule number three, erase the cops increase the peace.”

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While some of the themes on Puppies Forever trend heavier, the music remains bright, driving and celebratory, the trio appearing to craft its songs with summer festival stages in mind. It’s a transformative property the crew references near the onset of “Clueless America” when the Babe Gabe sing-raps about a desire to convert all of these mounting tensions into new songs, grief and pain giving way to art that can bring a universal sense of joy.

“Just the type of people we are, a lot of the music we like is bright music,” TyFaizon said. “We don’t listen to too much dark music or super depressing music. ... But then you also want to have that balance. … We want to have a message in the music, where there’s something you can take away from it, and it’s not just fluff.”

“We want to make the music fun and listenable, but at the same time we do want to say what we want to say, and what’s on our minds,” Deiondre said.

Since first getting together in 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri, the trio has released a stream of effervescent, shape-shifting songs that draw from a wide range of sources, including hip-hop, indie-rock, punk and the type of dayglo, experimental soul conjured by artists such as Blood Orange. “I think that’s the goal, to have this be a band we can always come back to, no matter how old we are or what’s going on,” the Babe Gabe said. “We can always do an album because we can do whatever we want.”

“We didn’t want to be the kind of group that comes out and is hot for two or three years and then it’s like, that’s it, nobody wants to hear it anymore,” TyFaizon said. “We were looking at bands like the Beastie Boys or N.E.R.D., where it doesn’t matter if they were making the biggest shit or the weirdest shit. They can do whatever they want and they’re always them.”

These shapeshifting, anything-goes roots, which are baked into the genesis of the band — the three initially bonded over musicians ranging from Blood Orange and Toro Y Moi to a Tribe Called Quest and Tyler, the Creator — can be traced in part to each member’s individual musical background and the way these disparate leanings play off of one another when the three of them come together to create.

“The way all of us sound, it’s similar but different,” said TyFaizon of the partnership, which all three entered into after years spent working both solo and in other group projects. “We just had to keep chipping away and unlocking stuff. … The first songs we made, they weren’t that crazy, but I knew the potential was there.”

“We were pretty comfortable at the start of it,” Deiondre said, “but we just feel like now we know what we want to do with this.”