November 13, 2008

Bloc Party: Intimacy

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Bloc Party’s rush-release follow up to Weekend in the City was announced just three days before it was available, a quick turnaround from its predecessor. Despite the quick release, however, Intimacy is a marked improvement, demonstrating growth in the band’s sound. As a newcomer to Bloc Party’s post-punk dance rock (the little that I had heard of the wildly popular Silent Alarm never really hooked me), Intimacy’s appeal lies in its combination of the general aims of the last two albums: the raw, fast-paced drums and guitar of Silent Alarm with the somewhat slow-going emotion of Weekend in the City. Added to that is a new emphasis on electronic sounds, giving Intimacy a good balance between jaw-dropping dance tracks and slower but equally enjoyable breathers.
The album’s opener, “Ares,” with its wailing siren guitar intro, gets the album off the ground with enough momentum (particularly with the chant “We dance to the sound of sirens”) that the occasional silliness of the track’s call-and-response vocals can be forgiven. The album continues along this pace, however, until a break with the lovely and pensive “Biko,” a ballad which on the surface addresses the grief of a person who has lost someone, while the name appears to reference the South-African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. Other tracks that dot the album with the same dreamy sound, like the minimalistic “Signs,” or the syncopated beats and dramatic backup choirs of “Zephyrus,” demonstrate that Bloc Party can work at both ends of the tempo spectrum successfully.
When they do rock out however, Bloc Party rocks out. No track better exemplifies this than “Talons,” a full-force, in-your-face standout with Kele belting out his self-loathing like the best of them (“I’ve been wicked/ I’ve been arrogant”). The video for this track, which features a shirtless Kele trapped in a dark basement, complete with ominously flickering fluorescent lights, is worth seeing: if not for the shirtless-ness than for the perfect visual it provides to supplement this energy-packed song.
“Flux,” one of the album’s singles, goes for the entirely electronic dance feel while successfully pulling on heartstrings with Kele’s pained cries voicing the realization of a relationship “in a state of flux.” However, not every song on the album that goes to the electronic end of the spectrum works. The experimental “Mercury,” another single, falls flat — the lyrics are repeated and remixed over and over, offering little catharsis, if any. The otherwise fantastic “One Month Off” falls prey to over-repetition as well; just when you think the song is winding down the chorus is repeated five times at the end.
Even with its faults, Intimacy shows the band’s realization of what has worked in their past efforts while attempting to grow and move into the electronic dance genre. While I’m unsure whether I will ever be able to jump onto the Silent Alarm bandwagon entirely, Intimacy has a feel to it that I can get behind.