Published Aug 22, 2008Like Radiohead's In Rainbows and Girl Talk's Feed the Animals, I felt it necessary to weigh in on Bloc Party's new one, Intimacy, as soon it was put online by the band. Announcing on Tuesday that they would drop their third album with only a few days notice, the ballsy move seems to have garnered even more attention for the band than normal, much like the aforementioned releases. This kind of guerilla marketing seems to be working like a charm.
It's exciting that Bloc Party have appeared out of thin air with only two days notice, great, yeah, but is Intimacy any good? I think I can safely say that almost every fan was let down by last year's A Weekend in the City after their 2005 debut, Silent Alarm, knocked many socks off. It certainly doesn't have anything to do with progressing as a band. One thing Bloc Party certainly do better than most is push their sound forward, experimenting with different structures, rhythms and genres while keeping the music accessible, not unlike obvious heroes Radiohead. That's certainly the case with Intimacy.
"Ares" opens up with looped block rockin' beats, echoed psychedelic guitars and manic energy that sounds frighteningly close to the Chemical Brothers' "Setting Sun." I say "frighteningly close" but what I mean is, "Tom and Ed, call your lawyers." I'm not fond of the harkening back to '96, neither am I impressed with Kele Okereke's stab at rapping half-way through. That all makes the widely panned "Mercury" and its grime-like oscillations refreshing; it's possibly the worst single they've released but still, I applaud them for expanding their sound to include styles that just don't fit their compressed, guitar-heavy sound. Kele told me last year they were working with cut'n'pasted R&B beats but that's not what I'm hearing, sadly.
"Halo," "Trojan Horse" and "One Month Off" are more representative of Silent Alarm's blistering rock, emphasized by Russell Lissack's fire-breathing guitar licks. It's obvious their strong-point but hearing their itch to move beyond this stuff confirms we can expect less of this in the future. Far from that is "Biko," which gets lost in the band's new software, relying too much on clapping drums to get the sentiment of the song across. Thankfully the gentler "Signs" picks up the slack, giving Bloc Party the assurance they are so desperately seeking with Intimacy. The combo of liquid strings and bells chiming in what feels like surround sound recalls Aphex Twin's softer side without alienating the listener into thinking they've gone "all electronic."
Rarely do I hear an album that ends with the artist's three best songs but Intimacy leaves the listener with a pleasant surprise. "Zepherus" is an experiment gone right, programming a sputtering, hard electronic beat amongst a heavy synth and an angelic choir singing something that would fit in Rosemary's Baby. With all of this ambience assisting him, Okereke's emoting, which seems to be testing tolerance more than ever these days, feels more justified than ever. "Better Than Heaven" doesn't live up to its name but it's perhaps my favourite song of theirs since "So Here We Are." Matt Tong's snapping rhythm feels like they reworked OutKast's "Hey Ya," and with the addition of Lissack's sublimely moaning guitars and a distorted synth, Kele's vocals canopen up to deliver a powerful but not overbearing chorus.
Closer "Ion Square" is the kind of sweeping, extensive farewell these guys were born to make. Taking it past the six-and-a-half-minute mark, they just let it ride, sitting back and letting the choppy beat and the tunefully tapping keyboard take charge. When it kicks into a full band effort, it gets even better, feeling like the room is filling up with bubbles, or something equally joyous.
Of course, this ranting is all based on the first few listens. That said, I feel that as a statement, Intimacy manages to better their second album, largely because of how many of these bold attempts they pull off. However, it feels like Bloc Party have a long way to go in order to top their brilliant debut, or earn the respect they long for as innovators.
You can buy the digital version of Intimacy and/or pre-order the CD (scheduled for release on October 28) and get the digital version immediately by clicking here. (Of course, I'm sure you can also find it much cheaper using other methods...)
If none of those options appeal to you, there's always the band's MySpace page, which is currently streaming four songs: "Mercury," "Trojan Horse," "One Month Off" and "Signs."
Bloc Party "Mercury"