Remember when Bloc Party released Silent Alarm? It fell nicely into that early 2000’s wave of post-punk revivalism that came complete with a modernized, dark sheen. The Strokes had garnered wild acclaim with Is This It and Interpol was riding off the high that came with dropping their magnum opus Turn On the Bright Lights. Even the opening guitar plucks of Bloc Party’s “This Modern Love” are reminiscent of Interpol’s “Roland”. The influences could sometimes be too on the nose, but Bloc Party had captured an authentic sound that was at once familiar and yet still recognizably their own.
Fast forward ten years, and Bloc Party seem to be doing everything in their power to make you forget they once had talent. A few months ago, the band released “The Love Within” and “The Good News”, the lead singles off their latest album HYMNS. Those tracks certainly helped solidify that the band that created Silent Alarm and A Weekend in the City was long gone, replaced by a hollow, pop-centric doppelgänger of the same name. The bombastic drumming and ethereal guitar playing were noticeably gone. What did Bloc Party, the band behind the songs “Like Eating Glass” and “I Still Remember”, choose over their traditional instrumental lineup? Why, a synth pattern ripped from any dance-pop act of the late 2000’s of course. And it’s not just that the presence of this instrumentation is a nuisance and so jarringly out of place for Bloc Party, it’s that for some reason it’s so much louder than any other element of the music. It blares confidently throughout, and it’s this assuredness that’s brought about that makes their new sound all the more embarrassing.
Well, many fans of the band agreed that that was a disaster. At the very least, there was no way it could get any worse. But those were the sentiments of people who still believed Bloc Party existed; the few rational people who dismissed any beliefs that Kele Okereke had become a pod-person a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The release of “Virtue” was the perfect muzzle for anyone still holding out hope. There’s a build-up to something that sounds promising in the first seven seconds. It almost has that same ambient opening that “Banquet” had. But where “Banquet” cut the tension with steadfastly pummeling drums, “Virtue” squirts out some synths. Kele’s vocalization sounds like a fan doing their best Kele impersonation. It’s flat, inauthentic, and tasteless. It’s certainly not good, but there’s something else at play that pushes it beyond a bad song and nudges it up into “offensive” territory. It’s the same reason Strangers to Ourselves was beyond mediocre and borderline insolent. It’s a bastardized, cheap exploit of a band’s name and legacy to assure you that “This it totally still the same band you knew ten years ago, but now with a better, newer sound!” It’s not. It’s emphatically worse, and with three singles out it seems almost impossible that HYMNS will be anything but disappointing.
– Zach W.