Bloc Party-Four Review: Experimentation Without Alienation

They've been away a while and hope is of a return to form after their disappointing last album; but have Kele and the boys delivered?
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They've been away a while and hope is of a return to form after their disappointing last album; but have Kele and the boys delivered?

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Bloc Party’s new album is more than the sum of its parts. The shakey “concept", based around the four band members and the colours/circles artwork, is not a sign of social media pretension, instead it highlights the renewed bond between four musicians from one of the most important bands of the last decade.

First song, “So He Begins to Lie” kicks-off with a vicious guitar assault marking Four as a back-to-basics masterpiece – a great example of a band rediscovering its strengths and individuality – in a time when it is all too easy to lapse into signature sounds as a series of battered old-cliché and filler tracks, or to quietly blend in, beige-like with every other indie band of the last 25 years (take a bow, Oasis).

Whereas Bloc Party’s previous album, Intimacy, was a straight guitar record remixed by band and second producer (Jacknife Lee)-a la Blur’s 13- on Four the band bash out the tracks with a greater directness that sounds like four guys in a room jamming, having fun and reconnecting through their music. As a result studio sheen is cut to the bone, with sharp bass lines that throb at the speakers alongside feedback squeals, amp buzzes and bizarre studio banter from singer, Kele Okereke.

Importantly, Four is not a “return to form” – that is to say, Silent Alarm vol II – though it has most in common with that record. In a recent festival interview, Kele argued that the band have set-out to play differently than before. This might sound self-conscious but change is hard, and given the myriad confusions over the future of the band,  it’s enough that we have a new Bloc Party album, festival appearances and a tour.

This renewed effort not to rest on their legacy shines through as the Bloc Party style (bristling guitars, yearning falsetto and machine gun rhythms) blends with a new, more American sound – evoking the record’s New York recording sessions, producer Alex Newport (Death Cab for Cutie/At the Drive-In/Mars Volta/Frank Turner) and a chain of influences ranging from the widescreen powerchords of later Incubus to the dirty grind of QOTSA, with a more hardcore crash and burn dynamic.

On many tracks, muscular riffs nestle against dense harmonies – both things that Bloc Party do well – and this album often brings out the best in them. By contrast there is a more catchy-pop beat on “V.A.L.I.S.” and “Octopus”, stripped of the layers of biblical distortion on the less polished tracks. “Coliseum” gives a bluesy funk-and-twang you would never expect from Bloc Party and elsewhere a banjo seems to creep in –  all welcome changes in texture that work well alongside Russell Lissack’s experimental delay.

There are further nods to the intimate simplicity of Silent Alarm in-between the angrier tracks. “The Healing” finds Kele looking back on the passage of time and the ability to live in the present “as life gets longer, you’ve got all the time you need”, but this is perhaps the only concession to history.

Kele’s lyrics seem more confrontational and menacing than ever before, as his gentle cooing and angry yells  are all brought to the fore in the mix. Tighter and leaner, his lyrics and singing refuse to lapse into the sagging misanthropy that sometimes plagued previous Bloc Party albums (and Kele’s solo album).

Bloc Party have evolved, and with Four they have made a brave attempt to experiment without alienating their audience – just don’t call it a “comeback”.

Released August 20th, on French Kiss Records

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