i wrote this article last week amidst the same batch of procrastination that spawned this very blog. it was published in canta magazine today (11/5/05) and i thought i may as well post it up here too for any non-uni students, or students that don't read canta.
still working on getting mp3s up for download. hopefully we can sort something out in the next few weeks, so keep checking here.
also, the playlist from last night's show should be up later today. the rdu internet was down last night so it couldn't be posted straight to the site.
one more thing - i'm really enjoying this new album by 13 & god. it's a self-titled collaboration between german laptop poppers the notwist (early 00's indie favs lauded for their album neon golden) and an act on anticon recording's called themselves, who produce the typical stuff that comes out on the label - white-geeky-guy computer hip hop stuff that although a little whiny, normally works out pretty well.
anyway, the article...
Why Bloc Party are good
A column in digression
by Richard MacFarlane
Bloc Party are good. They’re not the best new anything, though, as a lot of the hype surrounding their debut album Silent Alarm has suggested. Most people these days are pretty skeptical of bands that manage to receive the latest in a seemingly continuous dishing out of the “Best band ever!!!” label. Skeptical, is of course, precisely the right thing to be, especially when magazines like NME toss out this claim whenever any run-of-the-mill rock band does anything remotely out of the ordinary. Seriously, do record labels pay NME to say stuff like this? Because really, at the rate it seems to happen, it’s becoming a bit of a joke.
This article has origins that link back to last week at the movies, where my girlfriend, a friend of mine and I became engaged in what turned into a reasonably brutal argument, considering the hushed circumstances. I would quote the dialogue of the conversation if I could (it would be pretty amusing), but my memory fails me. It was basically a two-versus-one (the one being me) barrage of why Bloc Party do, in fact, suck. I happened to disagree. And for some reason, that compelled me to write a short essay on why exactly my girlfriend and certain friends are wrong.
So they’re from Britain, they’ve got a black guy that sings and plays guitar, and I’m pretty sure that NME has called them the best band ever on at least one occasion (not that I actually read that pile of pretentious and misinformed crap). Being British definitely isn’t new, neither is having a black guy in your band (TV on the Radio, anyone?). Nor is NME saying that you’re good. So what’s the big deal about four more well-groomed British lads?
a) Tension: I read a theory somewhere that suggested tension is what makes contemporary indie guitar bands popular, or that it’s the element of guitar music that is “in” right now. Or something. Anyway, Bloc Party have tension like a tight-rope walker. Their guitars harness this through spiraling verses with tight chord progressions, and dynamic vocal-instrument interplays push this tension even further.
b) Energy: Countless acts get described as energetic these days, more often pretty unwarrantedly. I’ve always found Franz Ferdinand’s supposed energy to be empty, and not really even particularly vigorous anyway. Bloc Party’s energy transcends the emptiness of fellow Top40 dwellers through a genuine intensity. Both vocals and instrumentation illustrate this.
c) Emotion: While there are many other decent bands recently that successfully craft danceable, angular and catchy guitar songs, they often fall somewhat short in terms of sincerity. Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads, The Ordinary Boys, etc. all suffer from lacking anything truly heartfelt or earnest. Bloc Party are probably closer to the passion of Interpol’s
d) Song structure/form: Loose song structures are another strong facet of the band. Far from anything resembling verse/chorus/verse, Silent Alarm’s tracks don’t often lead where expected (except maybe the single “Helicopter”, which has a more conventional form). Songs can go from the quietest guitar and near-whispered vocals to totally wild guitar spaz-solos (e.g. “Banquet” – the last thirty seconds here are just fucking crazy, especially compared to the quiet beginnings).
I need not mention the lead singers Batman shirt, or the bassist’s fringe – both enhance the band in obvious ways. Bloc Party aren’t an artificial, pre-packed product, though – they’re just good.
False: Bloc Party are original. They’re a product of their influences. They definitely listened to the right bands. Gang of Four, Joy Division, Sonic Youth, The Cure – basically all the older bands that have reached cult status within the indie masses. It’s not just that they’ve listened to the right bands, but they’ve figured out how to incorporate and embrace them in the best ways. Maybe they are original in the limited way that any band after Post Modernism could be – making the best amalgamation/appropriation of previous bands. Its funny the way the media celebrates 21st century bands originiality when clearly they’re not (The Strokes, for instance). While their sound may be very ready for the press and public, they discard nothing of their sound in favour of press ready convenience.
False: Bloc Party are “the new Franz Ferdinand”. This claim has been made by numerous publications. Aside from being fundamentally flawed (how can any band in the 21st century be the new anyone?), this idea is also misguided. Franz Ferdinand serve are far different purpose – fun is of high priority (over sentiment) and danceabilty takes precedent over intensity. While both acts are suited to the Top40, Franz Ferdinand are probably more at home in a club/bar situation (as much as a rock band can be).
It’s hard to tell how popular Bloc Party actually are. I only really get any indication from websites. I don’t listen to the radio or watch TV much, but there was a time where I saw Bloc Party on C4’s Amped. Normally seeing that jerk from The Rock introduce any band would be enough to give anyone a disdain for even their most beloved band, and I must say, it brought me very close to finally dismissing Bloc Party completely.
But then I listened to Silent Alarm again. The hype surrounding is easily surpassed with this stellar release. And where band’s like Franz Ferdinand’s second album’s are going to definitely disappoint (through being built up to be more than the actually are) Bloc Party’s will undoubtedly be filled with the same inventively retrospective sound that draws me to them. Right now, though, it’s probably pretty easy to hate on Bloc Party – maybe that’s why I like them.
3 months ago