Silent Alarm, by Bloc Party (2005)

Bloc Party Silent Alarm (Wichita, Vice, 2005) Produced by Paul Epworth In the first minute of “Like Eating Glass,” you’ll hear a chiming electric guitar starts to echo and stretch into a siren-like wail, like that of an ambulance speeding off into the distance. Cue bass guitar, then drums and rhythm guitar, and that guitar starts roaring back into the mix before dropping like a Stuka dive bomber. The imagery may be hyperbolic, but it’s a ballsy and confident as when frontman Kele Okereke called Bloc Party’s music “Technicolor.” This visually arresting guitar riff not only illustrates how big of an impact they made in the music scene ten years ago among critics and listeners, myself included, but also their take on modern life in 2005 that the band so artfully expresses in Silent Alarm. The mid-2000s rock scene the London-based quartet inhabited was crowded with bands that drew from a wellspring of 1970s-80s “post-punk” and new wave music that blended the jagged guitars of punk with the rhythms and synths of disco, typified by bands such as Blondie, Joy Division, Gang of Four, Talking Heads, and The Cure to name a few. The combination of a genre based on a return to basics and a genre that wanted to use “the sound of the future” as Giorgio Moroder called the synthesizer almost seems to mirror two movements often viewed as foundational to the “modern age” that we live in. (I can’t believe I compared the rediscovery of 60s garage rock by 70s punk rockers to the Renaissance, and the Scientific Revolution with the new technology behind 70s and 80s dance and rock music.) Bloc Party goes even deeper than their contemporaries by incorporating more modern influences into their music, as if to tap into the same spirit of innovation that drove their predecessors and not merely copy their rhythms and sounds in a better-sounding package. It also doesn’t hurt that their wider influences free Bloc Party to have a wider range of melodic and emotional expression either. Lead single “So Here We Are” stands out from the oeuvre of countless post-punk revivalists by creating a tender, vulnerable mood through the glistening, harmonized arpeggios of Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack’s guitars, while the contrast of Matt Tong’s frenetic, DJ Shadow-esque drumming adds a tense anxiety to frontman Okereke’s lyrics of a lover renewing his commitments in spite of his slip-ups. Lissack’s echoing guitar punctuates “Positive Tension,” which rests on Gordon Moakes’ melodic basslines and Tong’s big beat drum breaks, as Okereke sings about boredom in today’s youth. “Banquet” shows that Bloc Party has the chops to fill dancefloors with a solid four-on-the-floor rhythm, while the call-and-response guitars complement Kele’s Cockney-esque lyrics of a stuck and confused relationship going nowhere. Those Franz Ferdinand comparisons don’t sound as substantive now. But it’s on “Pioneers” that Bloc Party really shine on Silent Alarm, delivering the fullest expression of their artistic vision. Their musical eclecticism is on full display: Russell’s Edge-y guitars atop the driving rhythm of Kele’s strummed chords, Gordon’s bass, and the staccato bursts of Matt’s drums, where the musical past and present meet as genres, rhythms and sounds collide and layer up. But the real centerpiece here is Kele’s lyrics, which seem to condense the past century’s worth of advertisements for new conveniences and products and political speeches and revolutionary propaganda. These aren’t the only politically-tinged lyrics on the record, but it’s obliqueness enables it to encompass a more multifaceted meaning than other protest songs. With Kele’s refrain of “We promised the world we’d tame it / What were we hoping for?”, his prior reflections on romance, boredom, drugs, insanity, and even politics take on a greater thematic unity that would otherwise be dismissed as “fashionable” nihilism or period-accurate Bush-bashing. For all the new discoveries made in technology and the sciences, for every new entertainment or convenience invented, people continue to find ways to be heartbroken, bored, insane, and brutal, and Bloc Party have their thumbs on that pulse throughout the album. Capturing the paradox of modernity seems very ambitious for a contemporary band to fulfill these days, much less on a debut album, yet Bloc Party pulled off this feat so brilliantly and, in the process, created a classic. Ken. You might also like… Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand (Domino, 2004) Push the Button – The Chemical Brothers (Virgin, 2005) Tourist History – Two Door Cinema Club (Kitsuné, 2010)


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