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Bloc Party

+ {Pin Me Down} + {Kele} + {Young Legionnaire}

East London’s answer to INTERPOL, or, for that matter, GANG OF FOUR, The CURE and JOY DIVISION, the angular polyrhythms of nu-indie contenders BLOC PARTY uniquely boasted a black singer/guitarist in Kele Okereke. Formed by Kele and lead guitarist Russell Lissack after striking up a friendship while attending the 1999 Reading Festival, the pair expanded the band to a quartet shortly afterwards with the addition of bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong. Respectively dispensing with short-term monikers such as The Union, The Angel Range and The Diet (as months turned into years without a whiff of interest from the music industry), September 2003 saw the lads opting for the politically sounding, but not exactly politically motivated, BLOC PARTY.
A lush, Domino Records 10th anniversary shindig later in the year presented a prime opportunity for the quirky quartet to make the right connections. With both FRANZ FERDINAND’s Alex Kapranos and Radio One presenter Steve Lamacq on the case (the Angular Recording Corporation imprint had also featured BP’s `The Marshals Are Dead’ on a V/A set, “The New Cross”), the interracial art-rockers were now ready for the release of their independently-delivered debut 45, `She’s Hearing Voices’. On this pulverising track at least, Okereke effortlessly morphed between the wounded wail of The CURE’s Robert Smith, Go4’s Jon King and The FUTUREHEADS’ Barry Hyde. A second indie 45, `Banquet’ (on Moshi Moshi Records), nearly cracked the Top 50, sparking off a full-time move to Mark Bowen and Dick Green’s local label, Wichita.
With major success looming on the horizon, BLOC PARTY inevitably cracked the Top 40 via `Little Thoughts’ and the overtly political `Helicopter’, both platters revolving on the kind of trendy coloured vinyl originally popularised by their new wave/punk forebears over a quarter of a century earlier.
The following year kicked off with the chiming crescendos of `So Here We Are’, arousing fears of a shoegazing revival, but making the Top 5 all the same. Their unlikely rebirth as pop stars pretty much guaranteed a Top 3 place for debut album, SILENT ALARM (2005) {*9}, and a wider audience for further big hitters, `Banquet’ (again!) and `The Pioneers’. Having become the latest in a line of indie bands to collaborate with The CHEMICAL BROTHERS (on their “Push The Button” set), BLOC PARTY were honoured with a full-blown remix set, featuring peer pressure makeovers from the likes of MOGWAI, FOUR TET and DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979. Fresh material arrived courtesy of the `Two More Years’ single, a Top 10 record subsequently tacked on (together with the aforementioned `Little Thoughts’) to a re-issue of the original debut set, voted Album Of The Year in the NME’s annual round-up, plus a near Mercury Prize winner.
Switching producers from Paul Epworth to Jacknife Lee, Kele and Co attempted to break free from the confines of a guitar band, exploring and incorporating the textures of computer programming for sophomore set, A WEEKEND IN THE CITY (2007) {*7}. The addition of a 6-piece string back-up, arty-pop was on the agenda for opening track, `Song For Clay (Disappear Here)’. Reflective and introspective, lying somewhere between confessional romanticism (`Uniform’ and `Kreuzberg’) and tense, nervy headers (by way of Top 20 gate-crashers, `The Prayer’, `I Still Remember’ and `Hunting For Witches’), hard work paid off in America when it scaled the charts; akin to their previous LP effort, hit `Flux’ was added on re-distributed versions.
INTIMACY (2008) {*6} careered towards the big beat-heavy enterprise of The CHEMICAL BROTHERS or The PRODIGY (on the astrological-infused `Mercury’), while airy-fairy flights into RADIOHEAD land came through `Signs’ and `Your Visits Are Getting Shorter’). Not that these tracks were typical of the sonic surges toward broody, bludgeoning break-beats such as `Trojan Horse’, `Ion Square’ and `One Month Off’, but BLOC PARTY had at least tried to push the boat out in unfamiliar terrain.
Putting BLOC PARTY to bed for a well-earned break, Lissack was first in line to emerge with his one-off side-project, PIN ME DOWN (2010) {*4}, together with female singer/songwriter/guitarist Milena Mepris. More align with the electro-punk dance scene (MM has a sound that made KIM WILDE or KELLY CLARKSON sound rock!), there was an obvious lack of warmth in tracks such as the jerky `Cryptic’, `Pretty In Pink’ and `Treasure Hunter’. Still, there was room for improvement – lots of it!
Liverpool-born/London-raised KELE, meanwhile, was granted a Wichita Recordings release for his electro-dance, production-probing Top 20 album, THE BOXER (2010) {*7}. A million miles from his BP dalliances, the frontman burst into life on the bass-bouncy and sweaty `Tenderoni’ (a minor hit), opening salvo `Walk Tall’ (straight outta US military boot-camp) and the sprawling `The Other Side’.
Teaming up with Paul Mullen (straight outta YOURCODENAMEIS:MILO and The AUTOMATIC) and La Roux sticksman Will Bowerman, Moakes discovered his sense of being courtesy of post-punk-types, YOUNG LEGIONNAIRE; an exclusive single, `Colossus’ (b/w `Iron Dream), paved the way for further ventures. With Bowerman’s berth taken by Dean Pearson, CRISIS WORKS (2011) {*7}, eased the pain somewhat for in-the-know BP fans, although what they’d make of PLACEBO-meets-PiL tracks `Twin Victory’, `Numbers’ and `Black Lions’, was anybody’s guess.
BLOC PARTY re-grouped for album FOUR (2012) {*7}, significantly named so due to the number of years in the wilderness and the count of members still in the band. The record was a solid enough Top 3 effort (Top 40 US), reuniting them with gripping GANG OF… er… FOUR gambols. Blessed with an organic voice that could match JOHN LYDON or THOM YORKE, Obereke powered precisely through the riff-tastic `Kettling’, `So He Begins To Lie’, `Octopus’ and the tense, `3×3’.
A million miles adrift from their early, edgy sounds, BLOC PARTY had long-threatened to come up with an indie-soul set. Bailing out in conjunction with such a diversion, rhythmatists Moakes and Tong were respectively replaced by Justin Harris (from MENOMENA) and Louise Bartle, although the latter only played a bit-part on 2016’s HYMNS (2016) {*6}; session drummer Alex Thomas filled in temporarily. Soul-searching and intimate throughout, older subscribers to their gospel might be disappointed in Kele and Co’s back-to-basics beats (bar the ballsy `The Good News’), whereas the noodling quartet might draw fickle crowds from the dance-floor for `So Real’, `Virtue’, `The Love Within’ (DJANGO DJANGO, anyone?) and the SMOKEY ROBINSON-ish `Fortress’.
© MC Strong 2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2013-Jan2016

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