Bloc Party | Intimacy (Atlantic)

cd_bloc-party.jpgThere’s a detectable theme on display with Intimacy: album #1 + album #2 = album #3.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bloc Party’s success has always hinged on almost mechanical-sounding instrumentation. Guitarist Russell Lissack excels at finding innovative ways to wind precision-tuned arpeggios around an acrobatic, precise rhythm section; drummer Matt Tong has always been a living metronome, anchoring each song with nearly superhuman bursts of quick, tight drumming. Intimacy continues this tradition of proficiency; however, surprisingly, it nearly eschews live drums altogether, instead relying on a multitude of programmed beats and heavily treated drum sounds. It‘s an initially startling development that proves to be just one in a multitude of curveballs.

The record boldly jumps out of the speakers, accosting the listener. "Ares" fuses coiled guitar and Chemical Brothers big beat into a brash and dissonant whole; melodies violently struggle to surface, only occasionally succeeding, then are again subsumed and forced back below. Lead single "Mercury" (a curious, confident choice in of itself) is a combative and uncompromising ball of computerized beats and synthesized horn stabs, often sounding as if it’s attempting to rewind itself, a lá the retrograde motion referenced in the lyrics. After this opening statement, the rest of the disc oscillates between two types of songs: glossy, beefed-up "standard" Bloc Party guitar rock, and "other." Tunes such as "Halo" and "One Month Off" inhabit the former category; they’re laden with buzzsaw guitars and skittering rhythms, entirely radio ready, and occasionally tiresome. "Trojan Horse" recalls some sort of futuristic, Blade Runner-esque take on of one of Silent Alarm‘s barnburners. There’s a detectable theme on display with Intimacy: album #1 + album #2 = album #3. Even the choices of producers (Silent Alarm‘s Paul Epworth and A Weekend in the City‘s Jacknife Lee co-produce) fits the equation.

And then there‘s the nebulous "other." "Better Than Heaven" continues with the ’90s techno influences, presenting echo- and squonk-filled verses that bleed into a charming, yearning chorus, oozing with seductive murmurs and croons; its snaking, bouncy, and rocking outro is truly epic, a standout track. "Biko" is not the Peter Gabriel song, although that would have been intriguing. Instead, it’s all layered vocals and samples, slinky and slow burning yet off kilter and nervous, finishing on a defiant, epic note. Oddly enough, "Signs" does follow with a mellow, yet simmering tribal, Gabriel sort of vibe. The result is meditative and a nice break from the rest of the album’s harsh overtones. "Zephyrus" is Intimacy‘s most audacious track, a dramatic, gothic hyper ballad filled with choral backing vocals and jackhammer beats. It’s simultaneously laughable and awe inspiring. The album finale "Ion Square" is nothing short of a Hi-NRG, buzzing rave-up. It’s not quite dance, not exactly post-punk, and not wholly electronica, but somehow sort of each of them and none of them all at once. It’s a nakedly emotional song, lyrically extolling the virtues of domestic tranquility, musically the sound of too much caffeine and boundless love.

Interestingly, for an album called Intimacy, this is Bloc Party’s coldest album to date. The production is nearly too sterile and uninviting, almost repelling all attempts to get to know it closely. Sure, it’s clear and powerful, and Kele Okereke’s lyrics are dying to say something deep and all-encompassing about relationships and closeness. It’s dark and sexual, an innuendo-laced whisper in the ear. But the effort still feels oddly academic, and less brazenly emotional than much of A Weekend in the City.

Intimacy signals Bloc Party’s evolution beyond simple ’80s post-punk revivalists. Second single "Talons" perhaps best illustrates the transition: It’s one part trademark chiming guitar figure and yelping chorus and one part drum & bass. It’s effortlessly commercial and artistically challenging. It makes you believe that Bloc Party possess true longevity as an act and a sincere desire to experiment and grow. The sentiment is much like the album itself: a little bit confounding, occasionally falling flat on its face, but ultimately fascinating. B+ | Mike Rengel

The iTunes download and limited edition CD versions of the album contain two bonus tracks: "Letter to My Son" and "Your Visits Are Getting Shorter." The CD version adds standalone single "Flux." Additionally, CD versions sold in indie shops contain another bonus song, "Idea for a Story," as well as several remixes of album tracks.

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