Album Review: Bloc Party - 'Alpha Games'

The Mic's next Editor-in-Chief Caradoc Gayer gives his take on London based indie band Bloc Party's sixth full length project, 'Alpha Games', out this Friday.

Bloc Party have become culturally iconic in a way few other bands have been able to. They released their debut Silent Alarm, in 2005, which soon became a classic of indie rock: its DIY spirit, fuelled by the subcultural dance hedonism of south England cityscapes, seemed embody the post-Britpop age. With that album, Kele Okereke and co. proclaimed that they were here to stay, and, despite some stylistic and line-up shake-ups, they’ve made good on that promise. Now they’re gearing up to release their sixth record, Alpha Games, which somewhat reinterprets the glory days of Silent Alarm, with varying degrees of success.

"Kele describes a seedy underworld of paranoia, desire, and dishonesty..."

Kele has mentioned the important influence of his new bandmates, Louise Bartle and Justin Harris, on the sound of Alpha Games. No doubt, the record contrasts greatly to 2016’s meditative-synth-driven Hymns, and has a sense of enriched band-chemistry. The instrumentals are energetic and visceral, containing the classic jagged guitar lines of Russell Lissack, and some interesting drumming-curveballs from Louise. Lyric-wise, Kele describes a seedy underworld of paranoia, desire, and dishonesty, informed by the current socio-political climate, and delivered in a post-punk singing style.

In the opening track Day Drinker, Kele’s on the top of his game, portraying a character broken down by substance abuse and anchored by the love of their brother. It’s an intriguing story that’s brought down slightly by the instrumental, which remains sparse and straightforward. Luckily the next track, lead single Traps, has a lot more punchiness to it: the pulsing Queens-of-the Stone-Age-esque riff evokes a claustrophobic rave in a dodgy underground club. Over the top of it, Kele adopts a menacing persona eager to exploit people’s innocence. The lyrics and song structure somewhat recall the band’s early hit Banquet. However, the sheer absurdity and fun of this song, allows it to avoid the trap (pun intended) of derivation.

Unfortunately, not all tracks on Alpha Games follow suit. In many the band stick to their comfort zone, like You Should Know the Truth, which draws you in with some bright and catchy guitar motifs that eventually fall under the weight of carrying most of the song. The interesting synths at the end aren’t given much of a chance to shine. On Callum is a Snake, Louise shows her prowess with a drum and bass beat, which doesn’t really work alongside the oddly-pop-punk guitar melody. The song might have benefitted from foregrounding the bass guitar, rather than putting Russell’s guitar lines front and centre like every other Bloc Party song ever.

"The groovy chorus, ‘you need to get your hustle on, boy you got a smart mouth’ and driving dance beat, are contrastingly undercut by a melancholy guitar line, the song skilfully towing the line between enthusiasm and sadness."

Next, we have Rough Justice. In this track the synthesizers create a fun, suspenseful atmosphere, but that is unfortunately counteracted by the slightly awkward refrain, ‘you can’t hang……. with us’, whilst Russell does an impression of the Jaws theme on his guitar. Further down the line, The Girls are Fighting, Of Things Yet to Come, and By Any Means Necessary, stick within the standard dichotomy of Bloc Party song-writing; either music for parties and debauchery, or the floaty introspection of songs like This Modern Love. It would be nice to have more in the middle. You find yourself wanting of more of the absurdity and riotousness of Traps, but the band stick within their comfort zone, tending to avoid any of those over-the-top-textures and tongue-in cheek lyrics.

Luckily, we get a little more of those in Sex Magik, in which Kele weaves a tale of an occultism-fuelled-relationship, over an eerie 80s-synth instrumental, and the wonderfully campy hook ‘earth, earth, air, air, fire, fire, water, water,’ which will likely be bouncing around in my head for the next couple of weeks.

Soon after that, we’re treated to In Situ, one of the best tracks on the album. The groovy chorus, ‘you need to get your hustle on, boy you got a smart mouth’ and driving dance beat, are contrastingly undercut by a melancholy guitar line, the song skilfully towing the line between enthusiasm and sadness. If We Get Caught is introspective Bloc Party at their best, in which the Bonnie and Clyde esque lyrics ride an instrumental that evokes walking through a city on a summer’s day. After that, the grandiose closer-track The Peace Offering conjures up a David-Lynch-like-tone of apathy and surrealism, ending the album on a high note.

All in all, Alpha Games is an interesting example of Bloc Party’s biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses. Parts of this record are great examples of Kele’s ability to charismatically address unique lyrical themes, and the band’s skill at exaggerated, dance-punk instrumentals. However, Bloc Party are also prone to forgetting how cinematic and forward thinking their music can be, then they get too nostalgic for the 2000s, and start emulating The Strokes. Let’s hope they abandon the safe route, approach music in a more riotous and exaggerated way, and dive even further into the interesting social themes that they started to cover in this album.

Caradoc Gayer


Edited by: Elliot Fox

In article images courtesy of Bloc Party via Facebook. Video courtesy of Bloc Party via YouTube.