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What I’m listening to this week: Bloc Party

July 28, 2009

Silent Alarm – 2005

Bloc Party‘s debut album, Silent Alarm, makes a big impression in both aspiration and accomplishment, especially for a band that had only been together a few years before releasing it.  Silent Alarm mixes a combination of the band member’s varied influences to arresting affect; there is grandeur (which would become more prevalent in their later albums), ratcheted and distorted guitar work, edgy drumming, and vocals from Kele Okereke that run the gamut from tender to disturbing.  The album runs long with 13 tracks, only one of which is under three minutes, but it’s full of refreshingly bracing gems, especially in the first half. 

The opener, “Like Eating Glass” is furious, particularly the aggressive drumming, which is still somehow so clean that it sounds like a drum machine at times, and the guitar work is inventive with experimental influence.  Kele’s vocals are intense and come across as a little untrained on songs like these, which might mean you don’t want to listen to it right before bed or anything, but it works for the emphasis that Bloc Party is seeking on Silent Alarm.  The album is also laced with political commentary, like on “Helicopter”, “The Pioneers”, and “Price of Gasoline”.  I actually think these songs work best if you don’t listen too carefully to the lyrics; it’s absolutely easy to pick up the point of them without over-focusing on the lyrics because the accompanying music is gripping. For example, both “Helicopter” and “The Pioneers” play with song structure, lyrical arrangement, and have catchy hook choruses.  “Helicopter” features a brazen vocal delivery that is clearly sardonic, while “The Pioneers” is more hopeful, and all of those pluses outweigh any minuses you might find nit-picking the lyrics.

One of the more brash tracks is “Positive Tension”, which also features spoken lyrics and a dynamically fascinating drum track, and Kele’s voice is biting and the lyrics are cutting.  “She’s Hearing Voices” falls into this category as well; Kele’s voice is low and distorted and the guitars crash throughout the track. Whether or not you like it depends on how nervy you like your music; either way, the risks they take are undeniably to Bloc Party’s credit.

The excellent “Banquet”, a successful single from Silent Alarm, is the album’s first sign of a big earnest feeling in the melodic chorus, but it maintains Bloc Party’s nervy edge, especially in the ending with its ripping guitar and yelping vocal.  “This Modern Love” balances the two even more so, with a distinctly Brit-pop guitar line and sweetly self-conscious lyrics.  “Plans” and “Compliments” at the end of the album attempt this with less success and ultimately get lost in a generic Brit-pop/rock haze.  “Blue Light” and “So Here We Are” are the slow songs and both are completely heart-on-sleeve.  Neither of these are among the best tracks on the album, but they’re pretty solid alt-rock ballads.

Silent Alarm is a blistering album that set up huge expectations for Bloc Party. I recommend picking it up for the ambitiousness, the crazy drumming, and the varied influences. It’s extremely well-produced, the band is excellent, and it’s a fresh listen.

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