May 2017 13

Bloc Party - HymnsBloc Party
Category: Rock / Alternative
Album: Hymns
Stars: 3.5
Blurb: A band still redefining itself produces a moody, heartfelt collection that searches more than it rocks.


 

Bloc Party’s early releases showcased an atmospheric rock sound that was well received by the community. The next two releases moved away from the band’s initial sound as 2008’s Intimacy played around with effects, loops, drum machines, synthesizers, and samples. While the previous two albums contained the theme of relationships, Intimacy featured a deeper exploration, with lead singer Kele Okereke stating that the record concerned personal experiences, which he had not written about as much prior to Intimacy. It’s a notable contrast that as the lyrics become more personal and human, the music relies more on technology and less on humanity with the band’s fourth album, 2012’s Four, displaying a move – perhaps even a retreat – back to the more guitar oriented sounds of the first two albums.

After picking up a new drummer and bassist, Bloc Party offers Hymns. If Bloc Party talked with its best friend in the middle of the night after a couple of drinks and the best friend asked to be told about love and divinity, Hymns would be the transcript of that conversation. Contemplative, the record searches for eternity but delivers mortality, explores mystery but never solves it, seeks but never promises salvation; instead, it delivers the pain and uncertainty of the here and now. Despite the religious association, a hymn can also be a more general act of praise or adoration, and beyond the spiritual dimension, these are hymns to taking a chance knowing it may not be popular, hymns of believing in a personal vision, the real faith. While none of the songs are bad, not all of them are exciting, but at least Bloc Party is not just writing retreads of the first two albums. Looking at the entirety of the catalog, there are three derivations of this band – a more rock oriented one, a more electronically rooted type, and a nu gospel variant debuting on this fifth album. It’s still not clear which version, if any, will be the way of the future for Bloc Party, but Hymns may make more sense an album or two from now. We may be born from ashes, but we are reborn from our own ashes. Hymns never quite catches fire, but it is catchy, and while it may not always satisfy, it intrigues. In any event, this writer is interested in what will follow in the album to come.

The very perky “The Love Within” starts the album, sharing its opening line from previous album A Weekend in the City’s “The Prayer,” but trades amped up guitar lines for electronic squawks and squeals, though more of it is manipulated guitar than it may sound. The verses are solid, the pre-chorus gets a little tedious, but the chorus is divine and worth the wait; unfortunately, the goofy video doesn’t help the song. “Only He Can Heal Me” recalls gospel, “So Real” begins as a down-tempo ballad and then becomes a mid-tempo rocker, while “The Good News” chugs along, getting in sight of its destination but never quite reaching it. “Fortress” is almost all vocal, high and fragile, but the standout “Different Drugs” is a somber and atmospheric attempt to understand and “broach the distance that’s growing in our lives.” “Into the Earth” is an upbeat tune about, ironically, death. “My True Name” is catchy and begs the question of what genre it belongs to, which is somewhat ironic since we also never know what the true name is that the title references. “Virtue” is another solid song that has a bit more energy than some of the others with a deep bass line, more prominent guitar, and less electronic accompaniment, while “Exes” is a jangly, slow, reflective number. The anti-climatic “Living Lux” brings the album to a close but does not bring full closure to the album’s sound or content.

The three bonus tracks are mostly in their proper place as additional content, although the prowling “Evening Song” should have made the main album. One of the lines is “I have a message, it’s in my voice,” and that is significant because Okereke’s voice is the best and most consistent thing about Hymns – it shines on every song, caught between the sacred and the profane, and makes the album a worthwhile listen. Don’t focus on the guitars or the lack of them, the electronic sounds or lack thereof; the voice is the message. As “Exes” states, “If you seek explanation / Well, I’m afraid there is not one.”
 
Track list:

  1. The Love Within
  2. Only He Can Heal Me
  3. So Real
  4. The Good News
  5. Fortress
  6. Different Drugs
  7. Into the Earth
  8. My True Name
  9. Virtue
  10. Exes
  11. Living Lux
  12. Eden
  13. New Blood
  14. Paraiso
  15. Evening Song

 
Bloc Party
Website, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, YouTube
Infectious Music
Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube
Vagrant Records
Website, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter
 
Purchase at:
Amazon CD
Amazon MP3
Amazon Vinyl
 
2016-01-29
 
William Nesbitt
Professor of English and Chair of Humanities
Beacon College, http://www.beaconcollege.edu

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