Bloc Party: Silent Alarm

Bloc Party
Silent Alarm


In theory, taking this group apart to see how it works should be easy. Bloc Party are British, they sound like any number of U.K. rock bands from the '80s, and they have a tight rhythm section, balanced nicely by guitar harmonies that run the gamut from blah blah blah to et cetera et cetera. You could also go on about the parallels that lead singer Kele Okereke draws: out-crooning Morrissey on "This Modern Love," seething with Pete Shelley's different-kind-of-tension in "Luno," shouting Lydon-like political barbs on "Helicopter," finding the protagonist of X's "Los Angeles" in "She's Hearing Voices" ("She's scared of the blacks/And she's scared of the Jews/She is walking around/She is yesterday's news"). And then you would grow tired of Silent Alarm, just as you grew tired of the 1980s.

That would probably be a mistake. Even within such creatively threadbare territory (how about them "deep cuts" on Franz Ferdinand, kids?) Bloc Party keep things interesting by making that familiar turf a touch disorienting. Not in a confusing, directionless way--more in the sense that listening to their music is like waking up to find that all of your neighborhood's street signs are in a new typeface and the intersections don't match up. The music operates on several different planes: Taken individually, the wailing, dramatic vocals say emo; the twitchy guitars say post-punk; the (usually minor) keys say goth; the near-blinding gloss says Suede. But stitch it all together and you lose your grip on where everything's going, and those handy rock-crit reference points begin to clash in bizarre ways--is the guitar on "So Here We Are" Sonic Youth '02 or U2 '91? Are the riffs on "Banquet" Fugazi enough to overshadow the fact that the beats get unsettlingly Duran Duranish? The signifiers blur even as the sounds cohere, and the decade of reference seems more immediate (or, barring that, at least more irrelevant). As bassist Gordon Moakes quips, snarkily if appropriately, on the band's website: "Bloc Party execute a cold, dismissive grace in their ignorance of the details. The devil is in there."

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