Bloc Party - Hymns
With an array of albums that cross lines left and right, Bloc Party has returned with Hymns, their fifth album, released January 29th 2016. The new line-up, featuring founding members Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack, adds drummer Louise Bartle and bassist Justin Harris. A new line-up isn’t alwasy a guarantee of a new sound, but in this case there was full delivery on that possibility.
Hymns is a far cry from where Bloc Party started, a loud and raucous give and take between Okereke’s and Lissack’s guitars over a storming rhythm section delivered by original bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong. Even their most recent album Four, while playing with other methods and instrumentation, focused on driving songs like Kettling and Octopus. Hymns does bring over similar lyrical themes as previous albums, such as battling with identity, drug use, general decadence, and of course relationships.
This album has a heavier electronic focus than most of their previous albums, save maybe Intimacy. The drums, while pulled back in the mix more than previous releases, are still pushed with the pleasant, off-kilter that keeps Bloc Party from being a straight forward “alt-pop” band. The exception here is the jarring effect of drum machines or electronic drums on certain tracks. Guitars are often absent or sedated with more keyboard and electronic effects (except on “Into the Earth” which might be a throw-back to familiarity). The bass is a bit more present than the stark contrast on earlier albums. Before, the bass lines spent a lot of time supporting the rhythms and giving the guitars their space, whereas this album puts the bass (when not replaced my keyboard lines) more upfront as part of the melodic line created by the main musical theme.
Stand out tracks on this album would be “Different Drugs”, an exploration of pain and virtue in recreational drug use, and “Exes”, a relationship discussion in the head of one participant. If you are looking for a literal hymn, look to “Only He Can Heal Me” which features religious overtones and has the feel of something you might hear in a thoroughly progressive congregation.
This album shows a new maturity for Bloc Party. While they’ve shed the shredding, dueling guitars, there is a relaxation and feeling of acceptance that is perhaps sparked from growing older and wiser.