There was a time when I thought Bloc Party could do no wrong. Their first two albums — Silent Alarm (2005) and A Weekend In The City (2007) — were brilliant in my opinion. And, considering the critical acclaim and awards they received, it would seem the world agreed. The B-sides from those albums were amazing as well. And I loved the majority of the remixes, too. Then came their third album, Intimacy, in 2008. I still can’t believe that it was released just a year after A Weekend In The City, considering how different they were. Their first two albums were essentially straightforward indie rock with a slight nod to Britpop. But Intimacy found them using samplers, loops and other modern studio wizardry to create songs that were quite a departure from their earlier material. That said, I liked Intimacy. I didn’t LOVE it like their first two albums, but it was certainly better than most albums released during 2008 and you had to admire their creativity and ambition. I think my biggest issue with the album was that I really didn’t understand what some of the songs were about lyrically. I could appreciate how poetic they were, but I couldn’t quite wrap my head around them.
In late 2009, following the release of the single “Once More Chance,” the band went on an indefinite hiatus and rumors circulated that they had actually broken up. But just two years later they were back in the studio at work on their fourth album, appropriately entitled Four, which was released during August of 2012. And the reviews were mixed. Personally, it just didn’t grab me. At first I was glad that they’d returned to the sound of their first two albums, but, the more I listened to it, the more I found myself wishing that it was more like Intimacy. I just didn’t feel like it was very inspired, whereas Intimacy was overflowing with imagination. To my ears, Four seemed like an album simply made by a band because they felt like they had to make an album. And it would appear that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way because the reviews were mixed, as was the fan reception, and I don’t think it won them a single award. At least not according to Wiki
So, this brings us to The Nextwave Sessions. Like most people, this release caught me by surprise. I didn’t even know they were releasing an E.P. until something like a week before it came out. I don’t know if they intended to surprise people or if they just failed to generate a buzz about it because Four was so lackluster. In any case, the good thing about it catching me by surprise was that I didn’t have time to develop expectations about it. Also, it felt like something of a gift, since I had no idea it was coming and wasn’t expecting new material from the band anytime soon. And, I must say, I quite like it. The very first time I listened to it, I liked it much more than Four. I’ll admit that I didn’t quite fall in love with it immediately, but after just a few listens I certainly did.
The E.P. gets off to a very strong start with “Ratchet.” Kele’s rapid-fire delivery of the vocals, which borders on rapping — particularly during the verses — is very much in the vein of the Intimacy sessions. It especially reminds me of “Mercury,” as both tracks have a jittery energy about them that’s infectious even if they’re slightly unsettling. Also, both tracks use loops and samples quite cleverly with various bits of guitar twirling around in an almost frenzied fashion here, helping to give the song its eager vibe. Honestly, I think this is their most inspired track since Weekend In The City.
“Obscene” also evokes Intimacy to some degree, having something of an electro-vibe about it. In some ways it’s a first for Bloc Party though, being that it’s distinctively R&B-flavored in terms of the use of a clapper and the subtle but punchy beats, which would seem to be programmed in lieu of live drums. The introspective lyrics are interesting, too, being from the perspective of someone who was “obscene” to someone and is now apologizing, wishing them love.
“French Exit” sounds like it could have been a B-side from the Silent Alarm session, which is obviously a good thing. It’s interesting that this song follows “Obscene” because it’s essentially from the point of view of someone who’s bragging about being indecent to someone else. It’s a “love ’em and leave ’em” sort of song, really. “I’m looking out for number one,” Kele sings proudly. It might as well be from the perspective of a sociopath. Maybe that’s the point?
Keyboards feature prominently during “Montreal,” one of the band’s most haunting tunes to date. While the percussion is rather anxious here, the seductive bass guitar part, which really dominates the sound of this one, is decidedly laid-back and downtempo.
The E.P. concludes with “Children of the Future,” another tune where the bass guitar essentially takes the lead and in the best way possible. “Be all that you can be, be all we never were,” Kele sings passionately during the inspirational song. I do have a couple of complaints about this one though. First, Kele’s vocals are too low in the mix during the first verse, making it difficult to understand the lyrics. Second, the song feels a bit too short, like it ends before it should, almost as though they were almost done writing the song and just gave up on it and left it unfinished. It would have been so much better if they’d simply repeated the chorus or first verse again. That said, it’s not a bad song and it’s still much better than anything on Four.
Word around the campfire is that the band is on another hiatus now, so definitely buy this one and savor it.