First Listen Review: Bloc Party – Hymns

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Hymns is as uplifting as it is introspective, and glitters with carefully written imagery.

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Hymns follows a three year break from Bloc Party, which included a changed to the line up of the four-piece, now comprised of original members Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack, joined by Justin Harris and Louise Bartle. That isn’t the only thing that has changed, though. Hymns is a refreshing diversion for the band: it’s as introspective as it is uplifting, and is rife with wonderful imagery carefully sprinkled through the lyrics. My advice? Don’t cling to the Bloc Party of Four and their previous records, but allow the new direction of Hymns to hold you in its warm embrace.

‘The Love Within’ gently echoes with mechanical verberations picking up the tempo as Okereke opens with “you give me grace and dancing feet.” Its construction is simple, held by a staccato beat and the omnipresent warble of a rising and falling synth, before plunging into the new territory of upbeat synth licks. It’s a carefree dance opener, but don’t be misled at this point, though, as ‘Only He Can Heal Me’ is more fitting as a hymn of the album’s title. It comes to be through the distant repetition of its title, creating a dark, gospel sound. The vocals tread carefully and maintain a steady rhythm throughout, until the last minute dissolves into instrumentation with the repetition “for only he can heal me” again, and again. It’s unmistakably an album about faith and devotion, and this is just one track that goes to show it. Okereke insists that he’s not Christian, but the “first music [he]ever heard was hymns at school”,  and that’s what is being recreated on Hymns.

Gentle piano chords signal ‘So Real’, with Okereke’s vocals softly spoken. It brings a distinctly melancholic shift to the album, detailing a break up with lyrics “what am I supposed to do / when the only good thing about me was you.” Bartle lends gentle high hat shimmers to the track, but what keeps the introspective track in tone with Hymns are the bass segments that coax us out of the sadness. ‘The Good News’ contrasts, freeing us from a pool of breakup woe, as it opens with a punchy vintage rock rhythm. There’s something country about the chorus, with the whole band on vocals, it’s uplifting and it brings with it the strange simile: “everyday is a repeat, like a carrier bag stuck in a tree.” Hats off to the carrier bag comparison, it beats Katy Perry feeling like one. Bloc Party make the everyday a little more thought-provoking. ‘Fortress’ brings a more ethereal tone with whispered, isolated vocals playing the tempo down.

‘Different Drugs’ marks Hymns’ midpoint, pulling us in with a staccato beat and gently soaring echoes beneath it. It’s a distinctive foot-tapper of a track, long enough to completely lose yourself in it. For the most part, it’s nothing different, it’s just a pleasant listen – but reach the last minute and it shifts. With high, distorted female vocals repeating “different drugs”, the track unearths an underlying dance element before Bartle closes with racing drums. The organic drumming thread continues onto ‘Into The Earth’, a track more similar to ‘The Good News’ than its predecessor. The lyrics growl “rock and roll has got so old / just give me neo-soul”, which may be a fitting genre for the album.

Beginning with a rhythm reminiscent of a Vampire Weekend track, ‘My True Name’ glitters with the beautiful imagery of “daylight through a stained glass window the colours run.” The chorus brings with it an inflection of Robin S.’s 90s hit ‘Show Me Love’: “if you’re looking for devotion / then come to me.” It marks an interesting inflection on the album, providing an interplay with a track that is best known in the dance genre – but Bloc Party showcase it in a different light when married with the track’s religious imagery. ‘Virtues’ is uplifting, a soulful rock track with cathartic lyrics, an ever-present punchy drum beat and a rhythm that undulates like waves.

It’s easy to see the thread of a broken relationship culminating in penultimate track ‘Exes’, a letter to all the exes who have been left behind. It offers no explanations, “all I have are excuses”, and its slow stumbling drum beat provides a melancholy conclusion. Salvation manifests in closer ‘Living Lux’ as it opens with whispers but ends with a descent into the racing electronica that remains latent throughout the beginning of the track. The ending soars, glittering with techno inflections before dissolving to nothing.

Hymns is as much a break-up album as it is one glowing with religious and faithful imagery. It gently winds through different genres with Okereke’s vocals paving the way, and it’s long enough to immerse yourself in. It shows Bloc Party in a different light, and it marks a delightful comeback for the band.

Hymns will be released on Friday 29th January via Infectious Music UK. 

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Third year English student, Records Editor, list maker and lover of Kinder Buenos.

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