Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Intimacy - Bloc Party


Bloc Party
Wichita Records.

SCQ Rating: 80%

Big beat percussion, siren-loud guitar squeals; feel the wrath of 'Ares', both the God of war as well as opening track to the dropped-like-a-bomb new Bloc Party record. Once heard, that feels a bit like an understatement; surely there are bombs that have taken longer to get the go-ahead than Intimacy, as the band gave a mere three day warning call. I'd further wager there are bombs less explosive than this eleven-song cycle, which features the ten original songs first released in late August, plus the new single 'Talons' unveiled last week.

Of course, a release method in the vein of Radiohead or Reznor can easily overshadow the actual record; the shock and awe technique of announcing it so imminently affords little time for hype or expectation, while the first listen incorporates all the excitement we held before internet leaks and blogs like this one ruined those precious record-release calendar days. The boldness of their progressive strategy feels echoed in 'Ares', brash and careless what bands it stands on the shoulders of. But beneath its blender-mix of electronics and indie guitars, 'Ares' is perhaps the most irreverent Bloc Party tune yet; tons of fun but unsatisfying in the end. These uncertain moments are littered throughout Intimacy, a record seemingly more interested in opportunity and adventure than the boring details, and I applaud them for regaining their sense of urgency left on the metro steps after A Weekend in the City. Before I tread any further, A Weekend in the City was and remains a fantastic record, one far more deserving than its critical response, nonetheless the recent backlash on the heels of Intimacy's release. Urgency wasn't that album's concern, however, and having soundtracked several parties in 2005 to Silent Alarm, I'm excited to hear Bloc Party back to their twilight hour decadence.

Decadence is truly the word of choice here. Their usual dissonant moments are now polished in electronic buzzes and saws (the surge of 'Trojan Horse') or synth-work knotted to early, trademarked sounds ('One Month Off'). Even in their organic state, Bloc Party have continued the electro push of last year's oddball single 'Flux' into this new material, from Matt Tong's cloying drum machine technique ('Better Than Heaven') to 'Biko's lilting guitar ode, looped and stuttered over protooled beats. These songs speak even thicker of Bloc Party's ambition to soundtrack urban desensitization than A Weekend in the City did, precisely because it doesn't blatantly outline its lyrical agenda like that album unfortunately succumbed to. Better yet, Intimacy lives up to its name by collecting some of Kele's most personal vocals to date, blood-letting this neon-bright metropolitan vibe all over our 4am bedrooms. It's a path Kele and Co. have arguably been searching for since their debut, and Intimacy successfully finds them intwined in the melodrama of relationship fodder.

When I contend that details aren't of primary focus here, that isn't to say that Bloc Party haven't laboured intensely (and secretly) over these eleven songs. 'Signs', in all its glory, is not only worthy of being touted as their best song, it's also among their most experimental; taking a 4/4 micro-house beat, suffocating synth and an army of bells into their own, increasingly brilliant blend of androgynous mood and Bloc-balladry. Which brings us to 'Talons', the latest surprise single from those generous Brits, which again blends innocent melody to dense guitars, cutting in and out of the mix, against a man-made dance rhythm. So the production is intricate, no doubt there, but the band manages to caress their instincts instead of being self-conscious; in the process avoiding another over-wrought narrative that occasionally troubled their last album. In other words, Intimacy could be that record playing over club speakers when Kele and his friends were doing coke in bathrooms and getting promiscuous through the lyrical woes of A Weekend in the City.

What keeps Intimacy's energy from tipping over or becoming stagnant is how unpredictable it plays out; cut between two producers (who helmed Silent Alarm and A Weekend in the City, respectively), this offering presents an admirable fear of commitment; when you're in a band so proficient at both aggressive indie rock and glamorous art-rock, which do you choose? Moreover, are you in a rush to decide? This unbalanced set actually gives weight to the it's devil-may-care eclecticism, making Intimacy better off in its compromised confusion than choosing a single love. We're still talking about a record, right?

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