orget everything you think you know and start all over again. Bloc Party’s website declares that they’re “an autonomous unit of un-extraordinary kids reared on pop culture between the years of 1976 and the present day.” Other commentators have called them a band. I’m sorely tempted to call them the best band in the world right now, but I won’t. (Do you see what I did there?)
Thus far in their short career, Bloc Party have found themselves tenuously lumped in with the spiky and contrived art/garage-rock scene most prominently lead by the likes of The Strokes and the increasingly shambolic Libertines. Bloc Party have guitars and a fondness for post-punk records but, apart from the guitarist’s asymmetrical indie hair, there the similarity ends.
Screw context, screw biography—Bloc Party have been around too short a time for either to matter. What is important is that they have a sense of adventure, romance, belief and intelligence, of art, a desire to explode preconceptions and exceed expectations that marks them out way above and beyond any of their perceived peers. Silent Alarm is a debut about desperation, about being desperately angry at injustice, about being desperately confused with the world, about being desperately in love. It sets its aim high from the off, drums deliberately mixed too loud in opener “Like Eating Glass” in order to make you fully aware that something important and intense is about to happen. Is happening.
Sonic and spiritual reference points veer from The Buzzcocks to Long Fin Killie via New Order, Gang Of Four, and Joy Division. Radiohead were they from London rather than Oxford, Disco Inferno before they found a sampler, Blur’s more awkwardly punk moments. Russell Lissack’s guitars swerve from the spiky signature of post punk to a keenly emotional, effects-laden futurism, while Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong together make a furiously propulsive and hysterical rhythm section which drives Bloc Party at breakneck speed at all times. And then there is Kele Okereke, fragile and angry and beautiful, yelping and bellowing, eyes fixed to the horizon one moment and closed tight to shut out the night the next.
Former single “Helicopter” is a searing, desperate indictment of political regimes that shall remain nameless (“He’s born a liar / He’ll die a liar… / …he’s just like his dad / He’s just like his dad / Same mistakes / Some things will never be different… / …why can’t you be / More European?”), 100mph guitars and 200mph drums and yelped, obtuse vocals bound together precariously by harmonies and oscillating keyboards, a damnation of inactive wishful thinking when you could and should be doing something. “She’s Hearing Voices” is a confused, kinetic evocation of mental illness, Kele’s frenzied refrain of “red pill / Green pill / Red pill / Green pill / Milk of amnesia” nothing to do with The Matrix and everything to do with being dosed on a kaleidoscopic cocktail of anti-depressants.
“Price of Gas” is an oppressive military stomp possibly about the Kyoto Agreement and impending ecological collapse, a maelstrom of sharp guitars, cacophonous percussion and abstracted, luminescent electronic swoops that would probably terrify the type of band obsessed with recording on ancient equipment in order to capture some indistinct and ideologically suspect notion of “soul.” Soul isn’t something you find in a mixing desk—it bursts outwards from your chest and guts.
Recent UK single “So Here We Are” deliberately sets out to evoke the rush of coming up on ecstasy, and manages to do so more effectively than almost anything else has done in probably five years, its layered, rhythmically complex sound avoiding formal structure in favour of a build-and-release impetus. The moment when it finally breaks into cascading, urgent delirium sets your entire body tingling, makes your eyes feel too large for your head, makes you realise that life is just a series of pauses while you wait for the next beautiful epiphany.
Such is Silent Alarm’s quality that Bloc Party have been able to leave off a clutch of other great songs, from former single “Little Thoughts” to b-sides like “Always New Depths” and “Tulips,” songs that, were they in almost any other band’s arsenal, would be standouts. There are thirteen tracks here spread over 50 minutes, but not once does the quality or pace dip below thrilling. Every track is bursting with ideas and inspired moments.
The instances of genius come thick and fast and unrelentingly. The desperate cry in “Pioneers” of “we promised the world we’d tame it / What were we hoping for?!”, the delicate, multi-directional affection of “This Modern Love,” the opaque moment in “Blue Light” when the music takes off for a split second and takes your heart with it (“Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space” + “Higher Than The Sun” + “Second Language”, all channelled through Wire if they were beautiful instead of angry), “I can heal the blind / I can cure the sick” and a barrage of drums and white-hot electrical wires in “Luno,” plains of ambience to open “Compliments”…
Lyrically Bloc Party are intriguing, mysterious and emotive; sonically they are intricate and explosive in equal measure. They’re rhythmically taut, aesthetically pleasing, ideologically sound and probably contain no harmful CFC gases either. Silent Alarm is an astonishing debut album and I love it. Bloc Party are the first band in eight years that I feel I can care about. The sky is wide open for them.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: FEBRUARY 13 - FEBRUARY 19, 2005