Bloc Party - Four | Album Review | By Volume

The kid that went down isn't dead; he just can't find his phone. The Hold Steady - Almost Everything
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Bloc Party

Four

A startlingly good, and hectic, return to form.

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Author: on August 16, 2012
8.5
Frenchkiss Records
August 20, 2012

The last three Bloc Party album titles all suggest a degree of restraint or tranquility. Silent Alarm. A Weekend In The City. Intimacy. It’s not like the band have ever been particularly soft, but until now, there’s been a faint politeness about the London quartet which even permeated a lot of Intimacy’s electronic soundscapes. Four is not like this. Four is unapologetic, odd, and interesting. Its rhythm section is a puzzle which never fully resolves itself. Kele Okereke drifts between serene and demonic. The textures are constantly in transition. Somewhere since – or during – the making of Intimacy, something about the Bloc Party that wrote “Helicopter” broke, and the bits they’re re-building with are exciting.

Not that the Bloc Party of old have gone missing entirely. That almost-raw snap of “She’s Hearing Voices” is drowned out for the most part, but it’s still just about breathing in some of these dives and turns. It largely finds itself bent into forms that render it recognisable only as a brief flutter. The softer edge of songs like “Blue Light” finds its way into probably the only normal Bloc Party song among twelve, “Day Four”, which is likely the record’s worst song even in spite of its beautiful instrumental last quarter. There are pepperings of a familiar ideology, too, in the bounce of “V.A.L.I.S.”‘s chorus and handclaps, which might just have a bit of “The Prayer” about them – if you look hard enough.

But I’m clutching at straws, to be frank. Four is a resounding success because of the departures it makes from the band’s previous material, not the similarities it shares. If it weren’t for Okereke’s distinctive voice, some of the passages here would be frankly so heavy or brave that you’d double-check the band name on the sleeve. Lead single “Octopus” incited the same polarizing reaction as “Mercury” did last time out, its repetitive beat a breath of trance-like fresh air amid the other more twisting songs. “Kettling” is absolutely thunderous, playing out like a 3/4-speed tape of the London riots with all the menace that blazing image suggests. If any song here sounds like it might have been the catalyst for the energized way Bloc Party approach the songwriting, it’s this one.

So I drew the short straw with this analysis, because the truth is you can treat Four like a debut from a band that’s all over the place stylistically but right on the money in terms of raw quality. It struggles to flow in places, but that’s kind of the point, you feel. That may mean the band don’t find any one chorus as universal as that of “Pioneers”, but – just like Silent Alarm – there will be a lot of different favourite tracks on the table when fans get around to discussing Four, and despite its myriad influences, Bloc Party sound like a singular force with a hell of a lot of intent. You can’t fake that.

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