Back in August, Bloc Party played their first gigs since 2013. Miles from home in California, founding members Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack unveiled both new songs and new bandmates. On drums was 21-year-old Louise Bartle – who would have been 11 when debut album ‘Silent Alarm’ came out – and on bass was Justin Harris of Portland duo Menomena. The new faces were a big deal. Relations seemed rocky when Bloc Party went on a break in 2009, and after going on another hiatus following touring commitments for ‘Four’ in 2013, they announced the departure of bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong. The new look Bloc Party officially clocked back in at the office this Monday (October 5) with a day of radio sessions and interviews. That evening, after premiering a distinctively dancey new single frontman Kele revealed that their fifth album is due out next year. Here’s what we know about it so far.
It’s called ‘Hymns’
When Annie Mac asked Kele to talk about the album on Monday night, he hesitated for a few seconds before eventually coming up with, “It feels like a logical evolution of where we’ve been,” before asking Russell to help him out. The guitarist – who’s been Kele’s musical foil for 16 years – said, “There’s a lot to hear.” All pretty cryptic, but let’s start with the title. While it’d be stupid to assume ‘Hymns’ is an overtly religious record, there may be something in the fact that a choir was involved in its recording. Kele admitted as much at BBC’s Maida Vale studios on Monday, when describing how he met the group of singers onstage behind him. Their voices – deployed powerfully and at just the right time – certainly lent the session a gospel tinge, perfect for an upcoming London date at St John at Hackney in December.
The lead single is dancey…
You can’t hear ‘The Love Within’ and not think of going clubbing. It occupies similar territory to Kele’s solo material and his lyrics (“The love within is moving upwards/The melody is taking over”) aren’t hugely removed from something Klaxons’ Jamie Reynolds might shout happily in your ear in a club smoking area at 5am. But the most interesting thing about this song is that there’s no synth involved. Yep, that wobbly, slowed down freakout bit was all done with a guitar. Apparently such trickery litters the album, and Russell had to source special equipment to summon similar sounds from his guitar. Speaking about his bandmate’s new tech, Kele told News.com.au, “It’s been very interesting watching Russell play the guitar, he’s using his instrument in a way I’ve never seen anyone use it. He’s always had a mind for effects and gadgets and whatnot, but with this record he’s taking his playing off the fretboard and it’s something else. I’m excited to get in front of people.”
…But the other tracks aren’t
Hours before unleashing ‘The Love Within’, Bloc Party played ‘The Good News’ and ‘Exes’ at Maida Vale. Neither sounds anything like the single. They barely sound like each other. Swinging and twanging on a rusty guitar riff, ‘The Good News’ is one of the most conventionally ‘rock’ songs Bloc Party have ever done. Kele’s lyrics are reflective (“My light is dimming/ And I’ve been too long drifting”) and references to faith are accompanied by handclaps and vocals from the choir. ‘Exes’ is more fragile. Acoustic strumming, military drum rolls and humming echo from the backing singers swell into a stadium chorus during which Kele laments “All the exes I’ve left behind”. There’s also a reference to trendy hotel chain The Ace. Rest assured ‘Hymns’ is not all dance-flavoured bangers.
It sounds good live
Even a brief listen to the Maida Vale session – which took place at the ungigly hour of midday – suggests Bloc Party’s fans vociferously approve of the new material. The “extreme” and “diverse” album Kele has promised may well be a lot to take in, but the hardcore are excited nonetheless. And after waiting so long for a record many feared wouldn’t come at all, who can blame them?
It marks the start of a new chapter
Obvious but worth noting, ‘Hymns’ is an important step for Bloc Party. Recorded with Harris on bass and a session drummer (Bartle was recruited after recording had finished), it represents the climax of an unsettled period for the band. But, with the group off on tour later this year and looking set to write together after that, it also signifies a new beginning. As Kele said on Annie Mac’s show, “It’s a new day for Bloc Party.”