‘Spotlight On…’ is a column from CanadianCollective that highlights new, notable, or under-appreciated artists in the music world. The aim of this column is to inform the reader about the artist(s), explain their significance/relevance in today’s music scene, and showcase some of their greatest contributions to our ears. Today’s pick: Bloc Party.
Who is Bloc Party?
Bloc Party is a four-piece alternative rock band from England.
Do I know this band’s music?
Even if you hadn’t heard of Bloc Party until now, there’s a very good chance you at least know their 2005 hit, “Helicopter.” The song has been featured on various soundtracks, from video games to movies to Malcolm in the Middle. Have a listen – the instant that first frantic riff hits your ears, you’ll know one way or another.
What makes them so significant?
“With Silent Alarm, the band managed to create a record that made sense of various influences, themes, and sonic ideas…”
The band exploded on to the British music scene at a crucial time. Up until the early 2000s, indie rock in the U.K. had hit a lull. The release of Silent Alarm, the band’s proper 2005 debut, played a large part in changing that. Along with the emergence of bands like Franz Ferdinand (the main riff to “Take Me Out” will never cease be both impossibly catchy and indescribably strange) and, eventually, Arctic Monkeys, the U.K. rock scene became one of the biggest stories in music.
Silent Alarm, in particular, was a landmark album. Its unique blend of manic guitar, heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics, and unsubtle nods to dance music made for a breath of fresh air in traditional rock music. NME described the album as “the unpigeonholeable soundtrack to 21st century life as a castoff,” and the band as something “for the whites, the blacks, the straights, the hip-hop kids, the freaks, the geeks, the emo kids, the punk-funkers, the queers and, yes, the fashionistas.”
In many ways, this review perfectly encapsulates the appeal of Bloc Party at the time. With Silent Alarm, the band managed to create a record that made sense of various influences, themes, and sonic ideas, all while fusing these aspects into a piece of work united by a criminally-underrated rhythm section. In doing so, Bloc Party presented an album that was accessible not just to one particular audience or subgenre, but rather an album that could invoke both daydreaming and head-banging within the span of a few minutes.
What’s Bloc Party up to these days?
“We may not get another Silent Alarm, but that’s not the point; tastes change, people change, and it’s only natural that the music people create changes, too.”
The band’s original lineup (singer/guitarist Kele Okereke, lead guitarist Russell Lissack, bassist Gordon Moakes, and drummer Matt Tong) released three albums in the years following Silent Alarm: 2007’s A Weekend in the City, 2008’s Intimacy, and the 2012 release Four. Weekend and Intimacy, in particular, represented a logical continuation of the band’s sound, from guitar-driven tracks like “Hunting For Witches” to the bolder dance fare of “Flux.” The four-year gap between Intimacy and Four came as a result of a haitus, and despite some memorable moments, Four played mostly as an album by a group struggling to reconnect in ways that both nodded to the past and pushed the band’s sound into the future. (Bloc Party also released a five-song EP, The Nextwave Sessions, in 2013).
It came as little surprise, then, that after another extended haitus following the tour behind Four, Bloc Party re-emerged in 2015 with two new members. Now comprised of Okereke, Lissack, bassist Justin Harris, and drummer Louise Bartle, the band recently released Hymns, their fifth studio album.
Hymns stands as a definite departure from Bloc Party’s original sound. Whereas Lissack’s guitar once cut through Moakes and Tong’s rhythm section, it is now reduced to a more supporting, atmospheric role that is meant mainly to supplement Okereke’s voice and omnipresent synths. Harris and Bartle do a fine job as far as their roles require, but aren’t asked to do much in terms of carrying songs.
It would be easy to write Bloc Party off at this stage – for any band, new members and an overhauled sound can very easily spell the beginning of the end. In an interview with The Guardian, though, Okereke was very clear that this change is what’s best for the band. “It’s amazing how [Harris and Bartle] reinvigorated our existing catalogue,” Okereke said. “I think we have a different groove now.” Added Lissack: “Old experiences are exciting again […] Going on tour or doing BBC sessions, things we might have been a bit jaded by before, are new to these guys so it feels like we’re doing them for the first time, too.”
If what the original members say is true, this bodes well for the future of Bloc Party. A personal aside: having seen Bloc Party live on two separate occasions, both in support of Four, a few things struck me. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a show in which the performers looked so disinterested in a) interacting with each other, and b) enjoying themselves onstage. While the band was great musically at both shows, my enjoyment of the performances was dulled by how difficult it looked for the band to perform together. Ideally, music is meant to be a source of joy not only for the audience but for the artists, as well.
This is what makes the above statements meaningful: things did not appear to be enjoyable for the band at the time, but the injection of fresh faces into the picture could be exactly what the doctor ordered. We may not get another Silent Alarm, but that’s not the point; tastes change, people change, and it’s only natural that the music people create changes, too. With Okereke and Lissack feeling reinvigorated, what’s to stop them from creating a new soundtrack for the whites, the blacks, the straights, the hip-hop kids, the freaks, the geeks, the emo kids, the punk-funkers, the queers and, yes, the fashionistas?
The Best of Bloc Party
Silent Alarm (2005)
“This Modern Love”
A Weekend in the City (2007)
“Song For Clay [Disappear Here]”