For around six years, Bloc Party have been a tightrope band. Would Kele Okereke sheer off on the dance tip he explored on solo albums ‘The Boxer’ and ‘Trick’? Would the differences that plagued them while touring 2012’s ‘Four’ ultimately tear them apart? Would we ever hear the fifth album that Kele revealed the quartet were working on back in September last year or, with half the original band departed, would they teeter off the edge before it made it to tape?
At the Glass House in Pomona, California, on Wednesday (August 20), we got our answer. Bloc Party played the first of two warm-up shows for this weekend’s FYF Fest with two new members – drummer Louise Bartle replaces Matt Tong who left in 2013 and bassist Justin Harris takes over from Gordon Moakes, who tweeted his departure from the band in March. It was, it would appear, a celebratory event, Kele declaring, “We just finished recording our new album and we’re going to play new songs from it”.
Previously the frontman had said “I knew at the end of us touring ‘Four’ that I wanted to make another [Bloc Party] record, with Russell [Lissack, guitarist]… Obviously everyone is aware of the line-up situation, this stuff is just coming to light now but we dealt with this two years ago. We had our fights and our conversations two years ago. It was a mutual decision, to be honest. I knew two years ago this is where I wanted to be, I wanted to be making a record with Russell.” And it was this more secure and settled set-up that took the stage this week. “It’s quite a weird and emotional feeling for us because it’s our first performance [together],” Kele told the Pomona crowd, and the vibe was decidedly ‘new dawn’.
And those new songs? There were two, suggesting a more downbeat counterpoint to Bloc Party’s frenetic earlier records. Emerging to a dour throb of intro tape, they clicked into the dark, driving beat of ‘Eden’, with Kele intoning lines about eating “poisoned apples” in the moonlight – “feed me til I forget everything” he sang, channeling his inner Eric Pickles – over Russell’s most cavernous scorched shoegaze wails. It was the sort of song that could’ve slunk through the undergrowth of 2007’s ‘A Weekend In The City’ but with the confidence of a band that didn’t need to shatter any sonic barriers to prove themselves.
Then at the start of the encore came ‘Exes’, a tune that Kele reckoned “if you’re a real superfan you might know this already” since a live demo of it emerged from a session with Australian radio station Triple J in March. A dense, brooding torch song in the vein of ‘Blue Light’, it takes its place among Bloc Party’s most heart-rending and self-exploratory tracks. Kele sang, “my daddy was a hunter and I am my father’s son/There was a time for about two weeks I thought you were the one” and dedicated the chorus “to all the exes that I left behind/These words will fall short but I must try”.
New band, new record, new chapter; it seems Bloc Party’s fifth might be a relieved gush of creativity and honesty. Weird and exciting indeed.