Surprise! New Bloc Party album. Just a year and a half after A Weekend in the City showed a more balanced, less single-oriented band, they return with the release of Intimacy, an album as eccentric and interesting as anything they've released. We'll skip the part where I pontificate on the quick release method because it's not that interesting, and, frankly, it's not all that innovative anymore. The music's what matters, so off we go.
This time around, the band's shifted from chopping and delaying their guitars to chopping and shifting singer Kele Okereke's voice. There's a lot of dubbing and repeating Ă¡ la the previously released single "Mercury," yet they still manage to make it sound like an actual band playing and not a programed studio back track. Lead track "Ares" mixes pounding drums with Okereke's call-and-response vocals for a nice intro to the album. Guitars are sparse but the winding riff keeps the song moving at a brisk pace. In a bit of a sequencing flub, "Mercury" is next, and with two similar songs back-to-back, many might guess the band's completely abandoned the dance-rock sound that's served them so well.
The next few tracks are more "classic" Bloc Party. With the uptempo "Halo," they take the standard rock song and put their own dramatic stamp on it. It's the cut everyone's waiting for at first listen, and it delivers. Next up: ballad time. The slow cooker "Biko" has all the electronic hiccups and barrage of faded background vocals you'd expect from the band's slower tunes. We get to see this bag of tricks busted out again in the similar "Zepherus" a few songs later. More jagged guitars and spiraling riffs await on "Trojan Horse" and "One Month Off," but the sparkling melodies make it seem less like a rehash and more like a successful style. Okereke sounds as good as ever -- his deep, pining voice really gives the band's buried instrumental complexity the dynamic it needs to elevate these songs from simply standard fare to truly great.
It turns out to be a bit of a blessing that this thing's only 10 songs long; there's no time for bullshit. "Better Than Heaven" starts with a keyboard and drum simmer but builds to a rock freak-out. "Ion Square" ends things on a really high note. It accomplishes what few bands in this genre can by taking mid-tempo pace and making into into an epic and intense closer.
So, it's definitely a Bloc Party album. No squealing guitar solos, no chug-a-chug breakdowns, and no sappy radio-tailored love songs. This band has forged a sound of their own from familiar building blocks and they've grown comfortable enough in their writing to be able to push their boundaries without sounding like they're forcing an experimental record. By this point you know what you're getting into with Bloc Party: a solid band with distinct riffs, unique melodies and an unconventional approach to crafting clever and interesting songs. This album delivers the goods, and is a truly solid addition to an already stellar catalog.