Bloc Party

Back in 2005, the year of their stellar debut album, Silent Alarm, Bloc Party truly felt invincible. The British quartet wrangled explosive melodrama from the simplest of rock ’n’ roll tools: the crossfire guitars of Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack, the caffeinated rhythmic thrust of bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong, and Okereke’s snotty, live-wire yelp. Every song felt like an urgent mission statement, delivered with razor-sharp chops and a blindsiding emotional wallop. It was funky yet punky, heavy yet elegant, familiar yet totally fresh. It was also the first chapter in what seemed like a beautiful new era — signaling a revival of the artful, capital-G Guitar Rock long missing in the mainstream since The Bends.

Eight years later, it’s unclear whether Bloc Party is even a band at all. Just this past month — not even a full year since the release of their most recent album, Four — Lissack dropped a surprising bombshell to The National Post, noting the band will enter an “indefinite hiatus” after the completion of their summer tour. “My wife came on tour for two days and said, ’Your life, I can’t handle it. It’s such a roller coaster of extreme highs and extreme lows,’” Lissack said. “That’s quite representative of all the relationships in the band. Maybe we’ll play an amazing show and we’ll be on a real high and then the next day some minor thing will happen and everyone hates each other.”

But Bloc Party have never exactly been built for the long haul, anyway. This isn’t their first flirtation with a break-up: Four was recorded after a brief hiatus, during which time Okereke explored a solo career and the band enjoyed in a slew of tabloid-bait drama. (In September of 2011, the frontman told NME: “I hope I haven’t been fired from the band,” after spotting the other three en-route to a mysterious rehearsal. They later swept the incident under the rug, claiming it was a joke.)

Ever since Silent Alarm’s solitary moment of brilliance, the band has struggled to re-define itself with each album — adding lush layers of sampling and strings to 2007′s A Weekend in the City, embracing an expansive, electronic-heavy palette with 2008′s Intimacy, and peeling back with a gritty, de-tuned menace on Four. Not all of the sonic shifts have worked, but even their most awkward moments (for example, the Pro-Tool’ed patchwork that is “Hunting For Witches”) are anthemic in their own dorky way. This is a band filled with intensely colorful personalities: Tong is one of the most visceral drummers in all of rock; Okereke is both new-wave dream-boat and spawn-of-Rotten Brit-punk prince. It’s possible Bloc Party isn’t big enough to contain Bloc Party.

Who knows whether or not this split will prove permanent? If there’s one thing we’ve learned being Bloc Party fans, it’s to disregard logic. (Hell, just after announcing the hiatus, Lissack dropped the news of the band’s upcoming EP, Nextwave Sessions). And even though this is a catalogue filled with inconsistencies, Bloc Party have still managed some seriously transcendent shit in their chaotic eight-year life-span.

These are Bloc Party’s 10 best songs, as I see them. If I left off your favorite, feel free to ring the Silent Alarm in the comments section.

10. “Selfish Son” (Bonus track from Napster and Rhapsody versions of A Weekend In The City, 2007)

A Weekend in the City is Bloc Party’s patchiest LP, a mix of ill-fitting new textures (the sample-driven “Hunting For Witches”) and re-hashed choruses from Silent Alarm. But “Selfish Son” closes out the album with a rare moment of brilliance — a lighter-waiver ballad laced with a laser-show dual-guitar solo, Tong’s trademark percussive splatter, and loads of twinkling glockenspiel. “I can be cruel to you,” Okereke croons in an endless mantra, as the catharsis swirls toward infinity.

9. “Real Talk” (from Four, 2012)

As they demonstrated on the electronic-heavy Intimacy, Bloc Party ain’t scared of overdubs. But as “Real Talk” proves, they don’t really need ’em. This Four standout is almost unnervingly simple, Okereke patiently unveiling lovelorn confessions over a raw guitar chug, Tong’s reserved pulse, and what sounds like the distant plucking of a banjo. “I’ve lived in every town, but here is where I find home,” Okereke sings, skyrocketing to his falsetto. “My mind is open, and my body is yours.” It’s a sexy, hypnotic simmer that never boils over.

8. “Talons” (from Intimacy, 2008)

With Intimacy, Bloc Party were coloring outside the lines of modern alt-guitar-rock, beefing up their tunes with robust orchestrations and programmed beats. The results were often overstuffed and claustrophobic — but “Talons” was an exception, blending the band’s trademark rock bombast with a slinky electronic style. Eerie Asian synths rub elbows with crushing static and distortion, Okereke howling in the eye of the storm. Intimacy often felt labored in its quest for the unknown, but “Talons” was effortless in its sprawl.

7. “Signs” (from Intimacy, 2008)

The critical punchline on Intimacy is that it’s not too intimate. But at the center of this expansive LP is  “Signs,” arguably the band’s most intimate track to date. Okereke is at his most romantic here, mourning a dying love through vivid imagery: “Two ravens in the old oak tree/ one for your and one for me,” he sings over glistening music boxes and haunted synth washes. “The last time that we slept together, there was something that was not there.” The final two minutes are carried home by  cinematic strings, as Okereke clings desperately to sanity: “I see signs all the time that you’re not dead; you’re sleeping.”

6. “Day Four” (from Four, 2012)

When Bloc Party drop their guard (and their distortion), they’re experts at new-wave-y make-out ballads: Lissack has a gift for swooning guitar atmospheres, and Okereke possesses one of rock’s most emotive croons when the mood strikes him. With the exception of maybe “Blue Light,” “Day Four” is the dreamiest track the band’s ever written: Okereke’s angelic falsetto on this track makes Chris Martin sound like a bush-league chump. “If you’re ever lonely, stay that way,” he flutters in a punch-drunk stupor, “The city’s here for you.”

5. “V.A.L.I.S.” (from Four, 2012)

“V.A.L.I.S.” may be named after an ominous sci-fi novel, but it’s probably the most lighthearted track in the band’s entire catalog. Over ping-ponging guitars and a taut disco-punk groove, Okereke explores his silkiest falsetto en-route to a chorus hook (“You gotta show me the waaaaay!”) that ranks among their stickiest. Rarely — if ever — have Bloc Party sounded like they’re having so much fun.

4. “Blue Light” (from Silent Alarm, 2005)

“I still feel you and the taste of cigarettes/ What could I ever run to,” Okereke sings in fragile harmony, his voices engulfed by wilting guitar delay. “Just tell me it’s tearing you apart/ Just tell me you cannot sleep.” “Blue Light” is so heartbreakingly awesome, Okereke basically recycled it note-for-note two years later with “Waiting For The 7.18.” Bloc Party may have written more inventive songs, but they never wrote a more powerful one.

3. “Like Eating Glass” (from Silent Alarm, 2005)

Bloc Party have never been heavier or more aggressive than on “Like Eating Glass,” the brilliant, skull-crushing opener from Silent Alarm. What’s most fascinating about this song is its elaborate construction: It opens with an extended drone, Okereke moaning over violent guitar chords and Tong’s spastic bulldozer drums; the instruments seem to almost operate independently of each other. (“We’ve got crosses on our eyes,” Okereke sings at one point, “been walking into the furniture.” That’s a fairly apt description.) Then Moakes’ funky bassline enters the mix at 1:29, suddenly gluing together the pieces before the chorus’ straight-ahead anthemic chug. “Like Eating Glass” is a sonic jigsaw puzzle — but its complexity is hugely cathartic.

2. “Banquet” (from Silent Alarm, 2005)

“Turning away from the light,” Okereke emotes on the chorus, his yelps swarmed by jittery disco-punk tics, “becoming adult, turning into myself.” And that’s exactly what “Banquet” is — the hormonal, exasperated sound of boys becoming men. Above all, though, it’s just incredibly fucking catchy: Okereke never wrote a more memorable chorus, and the band’s intricate, interlocking groove (those criss-crossing guitars, Moakes’ beefy bass runs, Tong’s hyperactive hi-hat) is flawless in execution.

1. “Helicopter” (from Silent Alarm, 2005)

Has a song ever been so fittingly titled? “Helicopter” is a blaring, turbulent behemoth, built on Tong’s machine-gun percussion and trebly guitar shards that stab like propellers. And while Okereke’s politically charged lyrics occasionally border on the heavy-handed (“Why can’t you be more European?,” he asks of then-President Bush. “Just like his dad, same mistakes”), his manic, melodic delivery adds urgency to the message. “Helicopter” remains the definitive Bloc Party anthem.

Listen to the playlist here

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Comments (89)
  1. I hate to be this guy but…This Modern Love. Come on.

  2. I think nobody knows this B-side of Intimacy, she’s brillant : http://open.spotify.com/track/0LLAaGcbuAuP7ImcGyjTTE

  3. Selfish Son was a B-side. Wasn’t even on a Weekend in the City.

  4. In this list’s defense, I’m glad you appreciated Four more than the average Bloc Party fan. It deserved more love and consideration than it got. But no This Modern Love? Even Kreuzberg could have slipped into the top ten.

    Perhaps it’s a credit to Bloc Party that my favorite three songs don’t make your top 10. But every time I see Verizon’s new commercial featuring So Here We Are I get goosebumps. And it’s not because I’m reminded of their cell service.

  5. Hard to imagine how This Modern Love was left out – I agree with Matthew.

  6. I’m so perplexed by this list and the painful absence of “This Modern Love,” “So Here We Are,” and “The Pioneers.”

  7. No This Mordern Love? Easily could replace V.A.L.I.S or Real talk.

  8. Remember the days when Matt Tong and Josh Garza were heralded as Rock N Roll’s new Best Drummers? I saw Tong at a MA rest stop once, dude throws DOWN on the skins.

    • Matt Tong is a fuckin beast. One of my favorite parts about Bloc Party is his drumming.

    • Matt Tong definitely is a fucking beast. I saw them once in Atlanta, and they killed. After the show, I found out that Matt Tong had a collapsed lung the entire time they played. Right before they went on it happened, and he just played through the set without missing a beat. He had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance right afterwards. WHAT.

  9. As long as 1 and 2 are some combination of Banquet and Helicopter, we good

  10. I would have included This Modern Love and The Healing but still a good list.

  11. Burial’s remix of “Where is Home” is probably superior to pretty much all BP material after Silent Alarm – so I think that deserves a place, technicalities aside.

  12. I’m a bit annoyed by the over-presence of songs from Four, but the picks from Intimacy (an underrated album) are great.

    What about “I Still Remember” and Silent Alarm highlights like “So Here We Are,” “She’s Hearing Voices,” “Plans,”..?

  13. I’m gonna be the weirdo here, but “KETTLING.” Those are the most monstrous riffs since the ’90s. And that solo. CHILLS.

  14. Silent Alarm was my favourite album of 2005, and for a year or two after. I searched relentlessly for any material I could find (which reminds me, I’d have been happy to see ‘The Present’ and ‘Tulips’). I REALLY wanted to like A Weekend in the City, but I just couldn’t. Maybe because of how much I liked their sound on that album and some of the earlier stuff. But really I think it’s because most of the stuff they did afterwards was/is just boring by comparison.

  15. Silent Alarm absolutely changed my life as a tween (?), so needless to say I’m a little disappointed by the lack of pre-Intimacy material. Intimacy, though, is definitely underrated – I would have liked a little “Zephyrus” and “Ion Square.”

  16. This list should just consist of the first ten tracks of Silent Alarm… But I guess that would’ve been boring

    • I actually agree. That first album was stupendous. In fact, I can’t remember a single band in the last 15 years who dropped so sharply after their first albm for me. Silent Alarm had them on their way to being one of my favorite bands, but nothing after is even remotely close in my opinion. I dunon what happened.

  17. My Bloc Party Top 10

    1) So Here We Are
    2) Talons
    3) She’s Hearing Voices
    4) Biko
    5) Ion Square
    6) SRXT
    7) Like Eating Glass
    8) Octopus
    9) This Modern Love
    10) Signs

  18. Signs should be higher. Incredibly beautiful song. “At your funeral I was SO UPSET, SO UPSET”.

    So Here We Are Should be included.

    This Modern Love.

    Also, Compliments is one of their all time best songs.

  19. As much as I love the songs you picked from Silent Alarm they probably wouldn’t have been my choices, except maybe Like Eating Glass.

    And now I’m going to listen to Bloc Party all day, so at least something good came of this list.

  20. Know your Bloc Party! Where is This Modern Love!??! Wastes me!

  21. Top 4 is flawless. The res is shit.

    • Yep. Thanks for this list. After that cool first album, I heard the single for the 2nd album and never thought about Bloc Party again. Now checking out the rest of your list, I see I made the right call. What ever happened to the Futureheads, same fate?

      • Yeah man, Futureheads watered down their sound, but if I recall correctly, all their up-to-2009 shit was pretty good if semi faceless. I went to see them in 2009 and tried to catch up on their catalog beforehand. Sucks they never re-captured the energy of the debut, cus I still throw Robot, Le Garage, and A>B onto the mp3 player rotation. I remember when that album came out, a critic claimed, seemingly correctly, that their first album contained the only authentic punk to come out in years.

        How was the show you ask? I wouldn’t know. I spent its entire duration on a bus to a remote suburb/neighborhood of London that took about 4x the amount of time I thought it did. Then when I got off, I began walking up and down what was probably the same street trying to find the venue, and asking confused first-daters where the hell it was. All the while, I could hear trails of music notes somewhere nearby. Kept looking, never found it, and the music eventually totally cut out. I’m glad I spent those 4 or 5 hours thusly at least so I could write this. I WENT, I just wasn’t really there you know?

        …This may seem like a useless/obnoxious comment (like many others I’ve posted lately), but it will be fun for me to look back on…

        • Man, quite a story! I knew Futureheads continued to put out some good stuff, I just haven’t kept up with it. Seems more like the typical band story of slow decline in quality. Whereas Bloc Party was just a rapid fall-of after their first album, they never reclaimed the energy.

          • Yeaah exactly.. it wasn’t as abrupt as Bloc Party’s fall but they def never came close to their debut quality again.

            Also, the story.. i feel bad for writing that.. the only reason it should’ve been funny was, as I forgot to mention, I was high outta my fuckin mind when that all happened. Hopefully that makes it kinda funny lol.

  22. No Little Thoughts or So Here We Are. The latter is a song that transcends. Even people unaware of indie music know recognise that as a great song.

  23. My favorite bloc party song has always been skeleton from the little thoughts ep

  24. You forgot their best song..
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmjKzbd3tZA

    ;]
    EverythingIsChemical.com

  25. You could almost extend the list to “20 Best Bloc Party Songs” and you’d still probably have to begrudgingly leave some out. Just goes to show the array of great songs these guys have produced.

  26. This list has me lost in a forest and caught adrift…otherwise solid…

  27. I have to agree that So Here We Are should have been on this list. Love that it’s back in the limelight again.

  28. I can’t believe no one mentioned “Letter to My Son”. That’s number one in my list.

  29. This list has way too much Four on it for my taste. I hate to say it, becauseI love Bloc Party and have since the beginning, but that record is just a mess. The only song from it that belongs in any top ten list is “V.A.L.I.S.”

    From Intimacy I would only take “Signs,” so well done there, but also maybe “Ion Square.” That song is just a fantastic closer.

    I guess A Weekend in the City is just going to stay underrated forever. That record is much better than people give it credit for, and songs like “Waiting for the 7:18,” “The Prayer”, “Flux”, “On” and “Kreuzberg” for sure need to be involved in ay discussion of Bloc Party’s best.

    I’m sure it’s hard to make this list without including most of Silent Alarm, but leaving off “This Modern Love” and “So Here We Are” is pretty criminal. I also think “Little Thoughts” deserves a nod.

    And how about “Always New Depths”? It was just a b-side, but has always been one of my absolute favorites. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlPWqmRyOeY

    • I agree on all counts. A Weekend in the City deserves a lot more love. And Ion Square: “So let’s stay in, let the sofa be our car. Let’s stay in, let the TV be our stars.” How can they leave off that one?

      • Ion Square reminds me of old Bloc Party, love the beat. Always New Depths – I found that track after falling in love with Silent Alarm, which remains one of my favorite albums of all time. Here We Are is my favorite song from them… yes, I admit I hated it when I heard it in a commercial. I’ll always have a sweet spot for Bloc Party, they have a unique sound, and a lot of heart. I regret not making the distance to Reno from San Francisco to see them one last time before this hiatus.

  30. Fuck this list all the way to hell.

  31. Wowza. I don’t understand the contempt for A Weekend in the City, the closing four (Kreuzberg, I Still Remember, Sunday, and SRXT) are one of my favorite spans of music on any album. Intimacy seemed undercooked to me, and Four didn’t feel like it had much chemistry, although they both had a handful of decent songs. My top ten would have to stay in the first two albums and their b-sides though.

  32. if only because less than zero is my favorite book of all time, a little disappointed that song for clay isn’t here

  33. Just put Silent Alarm up and be done with it.

  34. Bloc Party are the most underrated band of our generation. Everything about them nears perfection and Kele’s lyrics are often overlooked masterpieces. That being said I think this list is pretty far off based soley on the fact that there is not near enough material from weekend and the omission of the bands best song Positive Tension. There are so many things I want to say about the greatness of this band. After Weekend and Intimacy came out I thought I would be stuck thinking they will never touch Silent Alarm again, Then came the masterpiece that is Four. After about ten thousand listens of each here is my list.

    10. Kettling
    9. Song For Clay
    8. Coliseum
    7. Banquet
    6. This Modern Love
    5. Flux
    4. So Here We Are
    3. Day Four
    2. Uniform
    1. Positive Tension

  35. No “Pioneers”? That seems like an automatic top three to me.

    A WEEKEND IN THE CITY is extremely underrated. It got a lot of flack because, well, whatever they released after SILENT ALARM was going to be “the album after SILENT ALARM.” But it’s better than this article wants us to believe.

    Also, INTIMACY was a mess, but no “Ion Square”? For shame!

  36. Gotta have:
    Ion Square
    Waiting for the 7:18
    SRXT

  37. I think I’m the only person who loved “Plans” and “Compliments” more than any of the other stuff off the first album. Those are my top two Bloc Party songs, oddly enough. And that isn’t to say I don’t think much of the rest of that album, because I do. It’s one of my favorite albums to come out of the ’00s.

  38. This is the worst list you guys have ever done. Truly awful.

  39. 1 Like Eating Glass
    2 Banquet
    3 She’s Hearing Voices
    4 Helicopter
    5 Kreuzberg
    6 Signs
    7 The Marshalls are Dead
    8 Plans
    9 Waiting for the 7:18
    10 Octopus

  40. Hey Gum, No spotify in the Great White North – would be nice to listen along with the comments in another format.

  41. I could easily trade the Four tracks for any/all of the following:

    This Modern Love
    So Here We Are
    Waiting for the 7:18
    Hunting for Witches
    Positive Tension
    …and my all-time fave: Two More Years

    • The first version is obviously just a sped up version of the second. I wouldn’t put it past Matt Tong to play that chorus, but I don’t think he actually did.

  42. Maybe they could have just made Silent Alarm its own number?

    A Weekend in the City had the difficult task of coming after a masterpiece. But that album goes.

    Also, I didn’t hate Intimacy.

  43. *plays Intimacy again* nope. Def dig it.

  44. Marshals are Dead. Nuff said.

  45. like eating glass
    so here we are
    banquet
    vision of heaven
    two more years
    helicopter
    atonement
    i still remember
    little thoughts
    on

  46. First time I heard BP was in one of the Gap’s on Michigan Ave while my wife was in a dressing room. It was pre-Shazam, so called my VM and sang what turned out to be lyrics from “This Modern Love” onto my message. The “this modern love…breaks me” section will goose bump me til the day I die. Great list, but miss that song…

  47. Intimacy is my favourite album of theirs, although it might have something to do with the fact that I blasted it in my rented Toyota while barrelling around New Zealand for two months.

  48. 3 songs from Four. lol.

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