bloc party release ‘the next wave ep’ before they go on yet another hiatus! #soundcheck

August 16, 2013

As if determined to make sure fans know that their upcoming hiatus is really a hiatus and most definitely not a break-up, Bloc Party ends their recent renaissance with a new EP. Titled The Next Wave Sessions, the EP points to a handful of possible futures for the band if and when their hiatus ends.

Bloc Party may never live down starting their career with one of the most unique and compelling albums of the 00’s. It’s almost unfair to compare subsequent Bloc Party albums with the lean razor-sharp focus of Silent Alarm, since it’s unfair to compare almost anyone’s album with Silent Alarm. On last year’s Four, their “return to form” record, the band invited that comparison. With The Next Wave Sessions it seems like they’re avoiding it at all costs.

The EP opens with the jokey dance-punk “Ratchet.” Part of early Bloc Party’s mystique was that their songs were danceable but somehow not fun. But “Ratchet” is Bloc Party’s version of a club banger. Kele Okereke trades the mystical and political for a song about getting fucked up and partying. Silent Alarm era Bloc Party might have intended this song as ironic social commentary, but there’s no trace of irony to Okereke’s delivery. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The song is sure to polarize fans, but those willing to actually listen to it on its own terms will find a lot to love. “Ratchet” may be out of place in the band’s discography, but it’s not an unwelcome oddity. Where the songs on Four found the band feeling impassioned and energetic again, there’s something great about hearing a band just genuinely having fun with a song.

The band quickly returns to more “serious” material, almost to apologize for indulging in that kind of decidedly un-ironic un-obtuse crowd-pleaser. “Obscene” is a beautiful electronic ballad. The band’s unrivaled rhythm section hands the reigns over to a laptop, while Okereke delivers one of the most sincere performances of his career. Meanwhile “French Exit” is the kind of angular post-punk assault the band made their name with. But following a dance track with a heartfelt ballad with a straight-ahead rock tune proves a little jarring.

The real star of the show though is the fantastic “Montreal.” Another down tempo track, the band strikes a perfect balance between ambiance and drive. Recalibrating their 80’s references, there’s more Police than Gang of Four here. There’s a weariness here that cuts deeper than the jagged edges of Bloc Party’s early barn burners. “It’s not my home anymore / and they made it perfectly clear.”

Where Silent Alarm was sharp and focused, The Next Wave Sessions suffers by being a little disjointed. 5 great songs, all of which stand out in Bloc Party’s canon, each pointing to a different possible future for the band, but the link between them is confusing. It feels a little like Bloc Party trying on different possible identities to see which one fits. When (and not if) they return from this latest hiatus, which Bloc Party will be the next wave? The crowd-pleasing dance-punk hitmakers? The purveyors of downtempo ballads? The classic angular post-punk band? The Next Wave Sessions proves that whichever Bloc Party we get will be great, but it also proves that they probably need to decide.

– Words by Nathan Leigh