Thursday, August 21, 2008

This is not the time to sign a lease

Well, it's been nearly 3 months to the day before there was any action on this space, and for good reason, i was putting on the funniest show in Melbourne! ( and it was a resounding success raising over $11,000 with all the proceeds going to the Starlight Foundation! Hooray!

Which means that pretty much everything else in my life took a back seat - including my fave blog, but what better way to get back on it than with a first impressions account of a new album from one of my favourite bands...

If this is all news to you, i wouldn't be surprised. Basically Bloc Party held a webcast on August 19th in which they, 'did a Radiohead,' spilling the beans on a finished and fresh to be released album - Intimacy. And no sooner than the 21st of August!

So basically it's available for order now from so if you've got any sense you'll go buy the download and pre-order CD for AU$21, with the CD to ship by Oct 27th - which is presumably when the physical copy will be available in stores. So what are you waiting for, go get it

So now that you've secured your copy or perhaps still waiting to decide - whatev - let me press on, my download finished mere minutes ago and i'm listening to the ten brand new Bloc Party tracks as i write this to you now. So without further ado...

1. Ares
Named after the Greek God of War and surprise, suprise the opening salvo is a whinging shout of "war, war, war" as a crowd of Keles give a wry state of the nation address over some buzz-saw guitars and a drum break highly reminiscent of Chemical Brothers' 'Let Forever Be.'
At around the 2 minute mark it breaks down into a quiet breathing section where Kele hums angelically, but it doesn't last for long before what sounds like a looped manic scream kicks the main riff back into the end.

2. Mercury
You've probably heard the lead single by now, and it's as big a leap from Flux as that single was to the A Weekend In The City material, and since this is still my first listen through - i can't 100% guarantee that it's indicative of the album as a whole - but it's still a ripping dance track - particularly when those malicious horns kick in. Kele's really enjoying the manipulation of his voice too. Love it or Hate it - this is the new Bloc Party sound.

3. Halo
Aha the first taste of what the press release was hinting at when it
said "some songs are Bloc Party at their most wildly experimental,
while other tracks are simply classic Bloc Party, fitting in seamlessly amongst fan-favorites "Helicopter," "Banquet" and "So Here We Are"
And so it seems here - duelling guitar lines over a rolling drum beat. It sounds very Helicopter on initial listen - and more lyrics of yearning from Okereke - talk of lips and fingertips over Silent Alarm style riffage. Nice.

4. Biko
The first sign of a slower number as a looped guitar appergio fills the air, and Okereke's falsetto soon follows. I think i just heard a reference to "the river Styx" - the river to the underworld, along with Ares and later track titles it seems Mr. Okereke has been reading up on his Greek mythology. After a few verses a heavy bass opens the gate to a programmed drum track. It's clear that
Jacknife Lee's influence (one of the producers along with Paul Epworth who did the band's debut) is all over this - a slow-building number with electronic leanings.

5. Trojan Horse
For the really impatient - this is available on the band's MySpace (and contains yet another reference to Greek Mythology). It sorta feels like a sequel to Hunting For Witches, a rabid guitar line against a drum and bass part. Great opening lyric too, "you used to take your watch off before we made love/you didn't want to share our time with anyone." Later Russel Lissack offers a ripping guitar solo which pushes Matt Tong into overdrive- a trick repeated towards the song's climactic finish. The album's title, Intimacy, seems to become it's theme too. Lyrics so far (from what i can catch) are about unrequited love, yearning or lust for others, and the resulting frustration.

6. Signs
Now this is interesting. A clutter of what sounds like xylophones, wind chimes and glockenspiels in interesting textures before some subtle synths form the harmony underneath. In a word: twinkly. Like Biko a few tracks before it's a nice respite from the heavier and more energetic sound of the album so far. Kele offers a delightful melody that soars lovingly over the musical backdrop. Much like Mercury B-Side, Idea For A Story, this reminds me of mid-90's Bjork. A soft bed of strings adds to the texture before it winds towards its close.

7. One Month Off
Kicking straight back into a powerful drum line and some industrial sound fx before a choppy riff cuts in over the top. Stop-start guitars make up the chorus - slightly reminiscent of Banquet and the breakdown of Uniform, a cool little synth embellishes the second verse. The chorus offers a challenge "I can be as cruel as you/i can fight fire with firewood," before descending into some tricksy time signatures and electronic ornamentation- think Hunting For Witches' cut-up intro. The breakdown at the end gets all Silent Alarm before getting really Weekend In The City. A nice balance.

8. Zephyrus
Named after the Greek god of Wind (see a pattern yet?). A cooing loop and some faint yelling take the stage before a thumping bass track take over as Kele's familiar yelp swings in again - so far so Radiohead. The rhythm track builds with clicks and snaps. The chorus brings in some washes of synths and keyboards sounding a bit Where Is Home? followed by a choral/mellotron breakdown who then punctuate the second verse. This is sounding very cool and slightly grand. Particularly because the choir aren't going away. Feels like we're building to somthing HUGE. It doesn't quite hit its peak but very haunting none the less

9. Better Than Heaven
An airy vocal wafts over a distinctive dub feel in the bass and drum part - sounding a lil' like an update of Price of Gasoline. Soon enough some buzzing synths, extremely bassy piano and twinkling guitar fill out the sound. Some chanting like lyrics too that swap between speaking and singing, "Much too, much too typical/much too much too." We're about a minute and a half from the end and the full band kick in - very cool as they race against a competing electronic part, but that dark, brooding texture remains.

10. Ion Square
The longest track on the album by a good minute or so, and intially it sounds a bit like I Still Remember, but with insistent and repeated guitar/piano chords. Some straight 4/4 drums build a chugging pattern, but the overall feel is a glossy ballad - with all the trimmings - the length ensuring a steady momentum.

Well there you have it.

Firstly, I think this is going to a bit of a grower, and while much of the heavier sound and faster tempos create an immediate energy - there's some subtler textures and tweaks here and there - not least Kele's voice being manipulated into strange configurations on a couple of tracks.

As a progression from A Weekend In The City - it's probably not as radical a departure as Mercury suggested - but it's a departure none-the-less, there seems to be an attempt to fuse the Silent Alarm dance-rock textures with AWITC's electronica and experimentation, though i have to confess it sounds more like the latter on the first spin. Using both Paul Epworth and Jacknife Lee on production duties cements this idea, though without full credits it's unclear as to who's doing what.

Still in context it's amazing that this four-piece were unheard of five years ago, and are now really attempting to do something special with their musical direction and career as a whole, while the distribution technique is becoming a little unsurprising (NIN, Sigur Ros, Girl Talk etc.), it's still a big risk and a brave advancement from any band. And such a productive rate - their third album in under four years - including those between album singles (Two More Years, Flux, Mercury).

Overall this is still one of the most interesting records I've heard yet this year. But then again, there have been more than a few...

...i'm of course hinting to higher productivity on Al's Music Rant from now on.

Watch This Space.

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