Bloc Party: Four

After electronic excursions and solo outings, the British indie rock ensemble is back, marrying its recent experiments with some downright grungy riffage.

Bloc Party


Label: Frenchkiss
US Release Date: 2012-08-21
UK Release Date: 2012-08-20

Devoted fans of British indie rock, I understand why the glow surrounding your relationship with Bloc Party may have diminished in the last few years. Maybe the electronic textures and claustrophobic atmosphere of the quartet’s last LP Intimacy (2008) weren’t your cup of tea. And maybe you indulged frontman Kele Okereke’s outright electro-dance solo effort The Boxer (2010) and its half-crap/half-amazing lead single “Tenderoni” all while craving more of the spiky guitars and tightly-wound rock grooves that made Bloc Party a band worth rallying around in the mid-aughts. Surely the two-year hiatus the group instated in 2009 didn’t help mend the growing distance.

Good news then, you Anglophilic indiephiles, as a refreshed and reconciliatory Bloc Party has returned to try and sweep you off your feet again. Admittedly, Four isn’t as energetic as Silent Alarm or as moving as A Weekend in the City, to this day still Bloc Party’s strongest recordings. That aside, Four is a commendable comeback, if you feel obliged to use the word. It’s a record that’s more focused than the last two Bloc Party albums and one which finds the group in top fighting form, its fists balled up and its collective stare cold and unshakable. These lads carry themselves as if they have something to prove, to both their fans and their competitors. Listening to “3X3”, for instance, Okereke’s distressed wailing comes off like he wants to show Muse’s Matt Bellamy how it’s done right. And props to him, he does indeed.

Though Bloc Party places itself on the offensive, Four shouldn’t be categorized as something as trite as a “return to rock” record. Yes, there is a fair bit of that going on, as Okereke and fellow guitarist Russell Lissack can be spotted unloading some of their heaviest riffs on the album’s dark and menacing rockers. But it’s done in skewed fashion. Opener “So He Begins to Lie” doesn’t destroy all comers out of the gate as might be expected; instead, the listener is treated to the sound of the band futzing about the studio before it begins proceedings properly with a zig-zagging mid-tempo riff. None of the experiments undertaken on Intimacy are forgotten -- indeed, that LP’s repetitious electronic elements prevail in alternating tracks. “Octopus” makes a call-and-response routine out of an oscillating synth tone and a ringing guitar part, and the rumbling low-end, handclaps, and infectious “Show / Show / Show, show me” chorus of “VALIS” make it a worthy candidate for indie dancefloor popularity this season (though Phoenix is bound to want some cash due to the refrain’s squint-test similarity to the one off its own “1901”). The aching vulnerability of A Weekend in the City is also a palpable presence -- see the yearning, chiming ballad “Day Four” and the forlorn cooing that emanates from the speakers as “The Hurting” unfurls.

If rock is what you came for, there is plenty to satiate you. Bloc Party’s approach for Four downplays the band’s ‘80s post-punk debt and instead opts for modern metal riffing placed in grunge song structures. “Kettling” is characterized by big reverby drums and thick Seattle guitars, adding a Smashing Pumpkins-style guitar solo that inches towards outright Van Halen territory near before wrapping up for good measure. “Coliseum” has a gritty acoustic blues riff that gives way to the sort of sleazy riffing that’s typically a signal for Scott Weiland to come slithering out, bullhorn at the ready. The album concludes with “We’re Not Good People”, its staccato bass, stuttering drums, and Deep Purple hard rock guitars ensuring listeners will be left with krinks in their necks after thrashing along.

Mind you, none of the brawnier numbers are a match for past Bloc Party heavy hitters “Helicopter” or “Hunting for Witches”. Attack and melodic songcraft aren’t as balanced as in the past, as Bloc Party instead chooses to emphasize the former whenever it’s compelled to flex its muscles. A song like “Coliseum” suffers from such divided attentions, as it shifts sections with little regard to flow or finesse in its transitions. Perhaps unsurprisingly Four functions best as a sustained listen instead of isolated tracks, where the looping dance beats, colossal riffs, and tender pinings can play off one another in long-form. Past offerings are proof that all those elements can indeed coexist peacefully in the Bloc Party milieu -- Four merely reminds the indie faithful of the fact in its own roundabout way.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.