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ISSUE 118 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/22/2005

'Bloc Party' in your neighborhood

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, April 22, 2005

Sometimes the most interesting music is impure. Straight- ahead rock and roll is great, but throw in a hip-hop beat and R&B rhythms and the fusion creates an electricity all its own.

London’s Bloc Party are a prime example of the joy and energy that such fusion can create. It also doesn’t hurt that their debut album, Silent Alarm, is one of the year’s best so far.

The band refers to itself as punk-rock, but such a vague term hardly does them justice. Bloc Party’s sound is somewhere between The Smiths, Talking Heads and Joy Division hopped up on speed. Guitarist and lead singer Kele Okereke has a thick British accent that immediately draws listeners into every syllable. Drummer Matt Tong’s beats, reminiscent of Foo Fighter Dave Grohl’s machine-gun accuracy, drives each track’s thumping dance-punk onslaught. In a way, you’ve heard these songs before, but never like this.

Silent Alarm opens with the acerbic rush of “Like Eating Glass,” a driving song that immediately calls to mind the melancholy dance music of mid-80s Cure. While the lyrics may be less-than-upbeat on the subject of love and alienation – “like drinking poison/like eating glass” – it’s impossible to stay still.

The same goes for the album’s next track, the bouncy, bubbly “Helicopter.” Okereke’s guitar work is reminiscent of The Smiths’ wunderkind Johnny Marr throughout Silent Alarm but no more noticeably than here. The track seethes and vibrates while the lyrics rhetorically pose the question: “Are you happy for a miracle?”

It’s difficult to pick out exemplary tracks on an album full of gems. “Positive Tension” sounds like early Blur, complete with Cockney rap and nonsensical lyrics. The album’s big UK hit, “Banquet,” is the most mainstream track on the album. It sounds as though it could have been released in 1982. In fact, the album’s entire middle section is almost a case study in how to recreate New Wave punk for the 21st century. Fortunately for listeners, Bloc Party eases up on the gas long enough to savor the fragile melodies of slower songs like the excellent and ethereal “This Modern Love” and the surprisingly affecting “So Here We Are.”

Perhaps the most negative aspect of Bloc Party is their derivative nature. Brit-pop groups from the 80s and 90s are extensively imitated on many of the tracks on Silent Alarm (take, for example, the track “Blue Alarm,” an almost shameless imitation of Blur).

However, despite their dependence on the past, Bloc Party has managed to present us with a new form of Brit-pop, one that dances on the shoulders of giants.

Despite their excellent debut, Bloc Party hasn’t been officially anointed into the pantheon of Brit-pop crossovers that have made it big in the United States. Like Oasis, Radiohead, Travis and Coldplay before them, Bloc Party has already been called the next great hope for rock by the British press. Hopefully, they’ll handle the pressure well.

“When you suddenly become really busy, you don't know how much you can do until you reach a brick wall,” Tong mused. “I think we're starting to realize what we're capable of doing now. It's just a question of balancing it all, really."

If the amazing punk-dance fusion on Silent Alarm is any indicator, Bloc Party is a band on the level and on the rise.

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