(Vice, March 22)
The year 2005 did not start until that day in March when I walked into Reckless Records, went up to the dude behind the counter and asked softly, “Do you have the new Bloc Party?”
It was the first album release of 2005 that I marked on my calendar, the first whose teasing singles had shaped into a cohesive feel and resulted in a lecherous anticipation I only experience perhaps two or three times a year. Few of my favorite artists put out anything new in 2005, and so it was a year to gobble up everything novel to my ears, and Bloc Party was the first band I’d never heard of who enraptured me. When I look back at this past twelve-month maelstrom, Silent Alarm stands out as a disc that has carried me throughout the entire year, an effort strong enough to restore my faith in “up-and-coming” outfits and fresh enough to make me reconsider the legitimacy of buzz.
I’m not sure what to call these guys. So I’ll say (post) post-punk post-nu new wave pop. Actually I’d just call them indie rock but I don’t want to cause an uproar. But Bloc Party is undeniable simple and straightforward. Perhaps the most innovative thing they’ve done on Silent Alarm is to create punk songs with disco beats. There’s “Banquet,” which I actually heard blaring from a car stereo in Boystown. It’s a track catchy from the opening drum fill and dueling guitar riffs, through the traditional verse-chorus-verse structure and into Gordon Moakes’s ending bass boogie. Despite these upbeat characteristics there’s a melancholy undertone that permeates the entire record. Silent Alarm is for the most part a happy dance album until you really listen to it. On “Banquet” Kele Okereke’s vocals are anguished and dejected, Russell Lissack’s guitar work is minor and hooked with a lamenting counter-melody and sinister wail.
“She’s Hearing Voices” opens somewhat torpidly with Okereke’s deep, mysterious voice, but underlying this is the solid rhythm of Matt Tong’s drums, which transforms what would otherwise be a lackluster tune into something anxious and post-punk. Okereke sings, “Feeling rejection, I’ll burn down your house/Tearing down posters, I was never alive.” In a similar vein is “Price of Gas” and its eerie beginning of somber vocals and toggling reverb guitar, and then its stumble into a pop-cheer bridge. Under the chorus is a harmonic keyboard and pulse that makes the idea of Silent Alarm Remixed not so surprising. Even without the luxury of seeing Bloc Party play live you can deem that they’re playing the shit out of these songs. There’s high energy behind the guitar lines, passion in the vocals, and the low-end is on top of the beat, adding eagerness to the sound.
The bass of Gordon Moakes and the drums of Matt Tong deserve the real praise for this album. In the sparse “Positive Tension” they create most of the music, with guitar and electronics only serving to create delicate tone changes. “Luno” features Okereke raving (“Where’d you get so cruel/Where do you go/’Cause you’re never here”) and evil guitar echo and scrapes, but it is Tong’s tight, pounding drums that drive the song to maniacal proportions. Even on the more down-tempo tracks he steals the spotlight. On “Pioneers” Okereke’s vocals are aching, the harmonies are mystical and there’s a pleading, desperate break to crush the toughest of hearts. This is all steered by the relentless drums, at first steady and pacing but climaxing into something less predictable and altogether untamed. Moakes functions similarly on “Plans,” which is a soft song that mutates from sadness to hope under the direction of subtle changes in an unyielding bass line.
Of course Okereke and Lissack are not easy to overlook. “So Here We Are” is a pretty little tune with a glistening guitar line and Okereke’s beautifully resigned vocals that perfectly match-up timbre and lyrics. “I caught a glimpse,” he sings, “but it’s been forgotten/So here we are again.” Silent Alarm’s only thoroughly upbeat track, “Little Thoughts,” is drenched with melodic hooks, punchy punk guitar (there’s even an old-school, 16-bar guitar break), and a soaring climax charged with brilliant vocals and six-string arpeggios to drive all the power pop girls and boys crazy!
Well you know what? I like Bloc Party. They create haunting punk with a deep, bare soundtrack that can be tense or calm at will. But I also enjoy them as a band. They seem likable enough: low-key, attractive, socially conscious but not ad nauseam. They’re British. They put on one of the best shows I saw this past year. So even if Silent Alarm wasn’t as successful as it is, I probably would have snuck it on this list. But luckily for us all, it is. Luckily 2005 became musically exciting fairly early and was able to keep up the pace with new bands and new (old?) sounds. March seems like it was ages ago. Funnily enough, Silent Alarm is still in my CD player. Nine months might be a mere glint for the successful rock world at-large, but for indie rock I think nine months is a sure sign that a band’s on to something. Nine months is four and two-thirds years in Vice Recording years. If Bloc Party continues to lace their mainstream pop appeal with the post-punk flare, the sinister undercurrents and schizophrenic spin prevalent on their debut, then I don’t see why they won’t end up surviving the torrents of their 2005 buzz.