Release Date: Jan 29, 2016
Record label: BMG Rights Management
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
There’s a clue to Bloc Party’s radical new direction in the album title: lyrically, Hymns is a turn for the more spiritual. Out goes the angst; in come song titles such as Only He Can Heal Me and an evangelical joyousness on the likes of The Good News (although frontman Kele Okereke has denied the new material is explicitly religious). There is a parallel shift musically too.
Bloc Party's fifth album is a rebirth for the British band which formed 16 years ago and now features a re-energised line-up with bassist Justin Harris and drummer Louise Bartle.'Hymns' has clear electronic influences: synth-heavy comeback single 'The Love Within' will have you sprinting to the nearest dance-floor. It focuses on themes of faith and devotion, but Kele Okereke insists the album's "not a religious epiphany"; nevertheless, 'Only He Can Heal Me' is confessional and prayer-like, while 'The Good News' connects mundane reality with faith.A total contrast to 'Banquet' and 'Two More Years', die-hard fans may need to give it a few spins, but in daring to reinvent themselves, Bloc Party show an impressive evolution. .
For most of their career, it seemed like Bloc Party could incorporate just about any sound into their music and still sound like themselves: On Weekend in the City and Intimacy, they added electronic elements to their razor-sharp dance-punk with anthemic results, and flirted with grunge and metal when they returned to jackknifing riffs and rhythms on Four. However, the biggest risk they take on Hymns might be continuing under the Bloc Party name. Between Four and this album, drummer Matt Tong and bassist Gordon Moakes left the group and were replaced by Louise Bartle and former Menomena member Justin Harris.
Getting religion doesn’t have to mean going door-to-door, or renouncing anything you’re not sure is killing you. It doesn’t even have to mean deciding there’s something wrong with everyone around you — it can mean the opposite. It does often seem to mean you’re gonna get kind of drippy, and bowled over by what the unsaved could’ve sworn were banalities.
Plagued with conspicuously missing founding members and a first single that elicited the kind of response usually reserved for a Nickelback return, Bloc Party’s fifth LP has been an uphill climb. Promising a record inspired by gospel music and religion only pitched them further from the angry, rallying young men that inspired a generation with ‘Silent Alarm’. In its full form, there’s more to love than ‘Hymns’’ teasers might’ve suggested.
If you’re looking for a return to the “old” Bloc Party, Hymns isn’t your answer. Instead of the frantic desperation that colored their early records, frontman Kele Okereke and co. work with subtler strokes, embracing a more restrained, soulful approach. The other reason why Hymns sounds like Bloc Party 2.0 is because, in a way, it is: The album marks Bloc Party’s first full-length release since the loss of longtime members Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong.
“I used to find my answers in the gospels of St. John,” Kele Okereke moans on “The Good News,” a generic blues-rock stomp from Bloc Party’s fifth LP. “But now I find them at the bottom of this shot glass.” Built on dust-blown slide guitars and hammy gospel organ, the track speaks of a lost soul finding redemption via the good book—and it finds the indie-rock veterans veering uncomfortably close to Christian rock.
It seems hard to fathom that over a decade has passed since Bloc Party released their debut Silent Alarm, a razor-sharp collection of jagged post-punk spiked 25 years into the modern age. The band has shifted directions a few times but have never really come close to equalling their classic debut. Bloc Party’s second album, 2007’s A Weekend in the City, brought strong melodies, more electronic elements and lush, cinematic arrangements, but didn’t quite have the same ferocity.
Shortly before Arctic Monkeys came along, you could divide UK indie into three camps: It started with the Libertines, then came Franz Ferdinand, and finally Bloc Party, a four-piece from London's New Cross. Each songwriter commanded his own archetype—back-alley dreamers Pete and Carl, suave epicure Alex Kapranos, misfit idealogue Kele Okereke—and took a unique grab-bag of influences from the British canon. Alex Turner once said he walked "the lyrical tightrope between Jarvis Cocker and Mike Skinner," and while it’s fair to say Okereke, a clumsier wordsmith, is not a lyrical tightrope-walker, he’s a master of the shallow dive.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. For better or worse, Bloc Party refuse to die. The upheaval they've undergone since the turn of the decade would've seen off most bands; it remains a minor miracle that the original lineup of Kele Okereke, Russell Lissack, Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong actually managed to make 2012's Four; ever since Intimacy was met with a mixed-at-best response three years earlier, rumours had swirled that equal parts disharmony and disinterest had pushed the group to the brink.
“And you cannot run or ever, ever escape,” Kele Okereke sang on “Positive Tension.” It was a prescient statement. Following their 2004 debut Silent Alarm, Bloc Party have, in a sense, never stopped running, attempting escape. With that album, the band had achieved what seemed like the impossible: crafting a terse pop formula so captivating in its cohesion and catharsis that it ostensibly signified the apotheosis of a fast-fading scene.
The first words of Bloc Party’s fifth album echo the opening salvo of The Prayer, from their second: “Lord give me grace and dancing feet. ” The invited comparison – to a time when the band were a crackling tumult of emotional volatility and anger, beauty and fragility – hardly befits Hymns. After a troubled few years in which they had two hiatuses, released the aggressive but empty Four and lost half their members, a slight change in direction might be expected – perhaps, like singer Kele Okereke’s successful solo career, moving more convincingly towards the dancefloor.
Whatever Bloc Party mean to you now – four years since their last album and two original members down – you can’t say they haven’t kept with the times. They’ve modernised their sound with the kind of “mature” chilly electronics popularised by the xx and that trip-hop beat that seems to be everywhere now, and they’ve updated their Shoreditch references too: instead of The Joiners Arms and cocaine, it’s the lobby of the Ace Hotel (Exes) and fennel tea (Into the Earth). Hymns, however, is let down by its ham-fisted “sensual meets spiritual” theme, and the fact that you can so clearly hear what Kele Okereke is singing.
Forget everything you knew about Bloc Party: this is not the same band that created one of the best début records of the noughties in 2005’s Silent Alarm. While founding members Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack remain at the helm, bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong have departed, during the hiatus that followed the release of 2012’s Four. It’s not just the composition of the band that has changed drastically in the four years since Bloc Party were last in the spotlight, though.
It's hard to know where to start with the 2015 version of Bloc Party. A far cry from the band that crafted one of this generation's finest debut records in Silent Alarm, they're consistently – and often unfavourably – associated with the period of time when they sat at the forefront of the UK indie scene. Whether that's fair or not is perhaps a conversation for another time, but whichever way you choose to explore and consume their fifth outing, it seems that something is amiss.
The fifth album from Bloc Party never quite gets off the ground. Though they long ago downshifted from the up-tempo energy of their debut, Hymns feels less like a purposeful pace than a drag. Lead singer Kele Okereke's voice is still beautiful, and his lyrics of heartbreak and passion strive for uplift, but the interplay between vocals and music don't allow for it.
Gone are the days of Bloc Party making indie-rock gold like "Helicopter". With a new lineup in tow, they've crossed the floor and are now a synth-pop band. That's the best way and quickest way to put it. The sharp guitar licks and raspy melodies have made way for atmospheric calm and melodic beats that while, earnestly written, somehow end up devoid of any emotion.
What the hell happened? Once upon a time, Bloc Party were beloved. Lauded as the bright future of UK indie, they stood out as a pensive, probing outfit armed with an arresting and distinctive sound. Peppered with a dash of literary pretension, their ‘Little Thoughts’ proved irresistible. There they were, on the cover of NME, painted smiles behind ostentatious headlines like HOW BRITAIN’S CLEVEREST BAND FOUGHT THE SYSTEM… AND WON!.
Last November, Bloc Party singer Kele Okereke laid the blame for the recent departure of original members Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong on “someone doing cocaine and someone not being into it”. Listening to ‘Hymns’, it’s not hard to tell which faction of these pivotal indie noir icons stayed in the band. For all of the narcotic dancefloor euphoria on its opening song ‘The Love Within’, this fifth album is about as ready to party as someone who’s just woken up in a skip on New Year’s Day with a head like Hiroshima and a £300 Uber bill.Instead, ‘Hymns’ swiftly escapes the intense club vibe that once dominated Bloc Party’s sound to shuffle, head bowed, onto a darkened pew and pray for redemption.
Bloc Party have never lingered long in one place. From jagged post-punk to cinematic indie to electronic experiments to anthemic rock, the band’s albums have been unique snapshots in their drastic, sonic evolution. Fifth LP HYMNS is no different. “This is the first day of Bloc Party Mk II…” frontman Kele Okereke declared when they debuted new material at last year’s BBC Radio 6 Maida Vale sessions.
Bloc Party are dead, long live Bloc Party. After an escalating series of unfortunate events involving cocaine, 'musical differences' and no uncertain amount of good old fashioned hatred, the indie kings of yesteryear have decided to jettison drummer Matt Tong and bassist Gordon Moakes to replace them with 21 year-old Louise Bartle and Menomena member Justin Harris (an apt choice, given that Menomena are one of the few bands to experience a more bitter internal breakdown of relationships than Bloc Party). This was never going to be a Gallagher-esque reskinning; a couple of substitutions over half time after which the group could continue to operate without a serious overhaul in both band mentality and musical marksmanship.
Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke has a penchant for privacy, at least when speaking to the press. The frontman and founding member of the London indie-rock quartet has always been quiet in the public’s gaze, lending himself to vulnerability only through brash and heartfelt lyrics. This is evident on all of Bloc Party’s records, especially Hymns, the band’s newest and its first without Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong.
On devotional-influenced Hymns, the trajectory of Bloc Party moves from angsty kineticism to a fully angular groove, much closer to the electronic-tinged solo work of singer Kele Okereke. Neo-quiet storm jam "Fortress" finds the frontman in breathy ecstasy, purring with a muscular femininity. Their best track in years, "Different Drugs" describes the inevitable death of a troubled relationship.
In spite of the usual lull of a new year, this January, in particular, was jam-packed with loads of exciting releases that cover a whole gamut of styles and attitudes. Sometimes we just don't have the time and resources to cover them all, but that doesn't mean we're always listening. Below are some ….