I was actually going to publish a very different blogpost before I suddenly got enlightened by a powerful inspiration to draft down yet another ARM critical appraisal. Nonetheless, the other initial topic I had (and still have) in mind might find its way to the light too, sooner or later, don’t worry too much about that. Also, to be fair, Bloc Party is kind of a big deal. First and foremost for me individually as music fan, but also I’d say for the alternative music scene of the last two decades, really. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, here I am delivering to the Interweb my personal take on the British indie outfit’s latest release HYMNS, dropped to the globe a bunch of days ago on 29th January 2016.
HYMNS follows quite a turbulent recent past for Bloc Party, who after the not so critically and fanbase acclaimed electro-garage-psychedelic Four in 2012 as well as an almost indefinite hiatus saw two of their four legacy members, bassist Gordon Moakes and drum beast Matt Tong, leave the band after what most people wouldn’t necessarily describe as an amicable departure. This presumably meaning that the contextual environment within which HYMNS was conceived and developed must have by all means been one of the harshest and volatile the band has ever been through. That is, no one is really ready to deny the fact that the Londoner band took a very clear descending path after 2008’s Intimacy, clearly positioning itself along a newly found sonic spectrum that visceral lovers of the first two full length LPs A Weekend in the City and especially indie space game-changing Silent Alarm found slightly difficult to bear to say the least. To be honest, I quite liked Four (softy ballad “Real Talk”, The Police-ian “Day Four” and spiritual “The Healing” are true gems, hands down), while on Intimacy and all other episodic and sporadic releases (see “One More Chance”, “The Nextwave Sessions” among others) I tend to agree with a vast majority of the public opinion I’ve come across over the years in finding them just too far away from where they truly shine.
With that being said, HYMNS finds the English indie masters taking yet another path across their musical and compositional journey. Gordon and Matt have in the meantime been replaced by almost-famous but pretty unknown Justin Harris (bass and keys) and Louise Bartle (drums), which is no little internal earthquake to begin with. On top of that, founding members Kele Okereke (lead singer and rhythm guitars) and Russell Lissack (guitars) kept themselves quite busy in between releasing and producing music on multiple fronts. This possibly all made for a very different set-up and mood approaching writing for the latest LP, and in many ways there indeed are different vibes and feels coming out of HYMNS. Overall, the album slows down quite drastically Bloc Party’s fast and sped up paces which were to be found, with different intensities and pronunciations, on all other punkier albums. This might partly have to do with Matt Tong’s departure and consequent substitution by Louise behind behind the drum set, something that lies along the lines of having to replace one of modern time’s most gifted and talented alternative-rock drummers, definitely not the easiest task ever. Such particular featuring, defining the 11-track LP in almost all its entirety, is however best observable – or in this case I’d rather say listenable – on songs like “Fortress”, “Exes” and curtain call “Living Lux”, which in fact get quite close to representing the worst the album has to offer. At the other end of this particular rhythm spectrum lie lead single and album opener “The Love Within” as well as “My True Name”, the latter being a song to me falls among the top three best tunes off the record, incidentally showing how the four-piece outfit still feels very much at ease when the BPMs tend to be rather high.
Furthermore, aside from the rather anonymous “So Real” (though that little edgy guitar lick is pretty rad and so catchy…) and “Into the Earth” – it must’ve been a B-side from one of their previous efforts, right? – the absolute and clear standouts off HYMNS are the magnetic and skin-wrapping “Different Drugs”, a true masterpiece, as well as third single and radio-friendly “Virtue“, reflecting a healthy and organic mixture of all those elements that made Bloc Party conquer the alternative scene in the last 15 years. And that’s more or less about it. I explicitly forgot to mention second on tracklist “Only He Can Heal Me” and second (no pun intended) single “The Good News”, simply because the still leave me quite indifferent to their effects even after repetitive listens, although the former one seems to possess a weird and perverse catchiness that might grown on me with time, to which though I’m not able to express anything more at the moment anyway.
Remember, I said it at the beginning, Bloc Party are a super big thing for me and one of my favourite bands ever. I really want to like this album, I truly do. In general, I believe I’m on the right path to getting there, as the initial impact has been good though possibly not quite Silent Alarm good. And while I tend to say this for very very few bands, Bloc Party’s case is definitely one of those where the pureness and genius of the debut effort have never been replicated after. I’d really like to go back to that kind of band, for once. Maybe, considering the rocky and fairly dark past the band has had, HYMNS was a necessary album to recalibrate themselves and reinvent a new beginning. Let’s give them this (one more) chance. Considering the above, if that’s the deal they’re making us, I’m buying it this time. I’m in. I have to.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
2016, BMG RIGHTS