Music Review: Hymns by Bloc Party (2016)

bloc-party-hymns-album
Release: 29 January 2016

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed any new music, and I’ve meaning to do a write up to a few of the memorable new albums this year. I chose Bloc Party’s new release because of their strong and beloved place in my memories. When they announced Hymns I was extremely excited, especially because of the direction pursued on Four. The first single left me quite disappointed, but still had enough to make me hopeful for the new album. I also had the opportunity to see them live in Tokyo, which was a really fun show, maybe not as energetic as the Bloc Party of old, but that is to be expected. This show was also my next opportunity to hear some more of their new stuff and I was pleasantly surprised that their first single sounded much better live, but the other new tracks were a bit hit or miss; often lacking in energy. Sometimes this happens with new tracks, but Bloc Party has a history of releasing impressive and sonically pleasing albums, so I tried to withhold too harsh of criticism.

I have had the chance to listen to Hymns several times now, and there are moments I love, but a lot that I don’t. It feels like a really lackluster release for them. The band line-up has changed drastically recently, so I shouldn’t be too surprised at the departure in sound. With only half the band up remaining, the Kele influence is much stronger. What worries me is that apart from the occasional strong track, both of Kele’s solo albums are difficult to listen to. He is a very talented musician, songwriter, and singer but I often wonder if he is the best at choosing which avenue to pursue. That’s only my opinion and I’m sure he disagrees. He seems to focus a lot more on the beat and electronic tracks, where I would prefer the more straight forward rock. I think if this album had been released under a different monicker I would have been far more impressed and not at all dissatisfied. The problem is, is that I know what Bloc Party is capable of, and this feels like a step down. It wouldn’t be fair of me to look for the same old Bloc Party, so I’ve been trying to listen to this release with less bias. It makes this more digestible and forces me to admit that there is quite a bit here. It is a decent album, with some really nice sounding songs. It focuses a lot more on religious theme-ing and vocal oriented tracks than any of their previous realeases. Some of the tracks come across a bit apathetic, but others feel extremely heartfelt. It is an interesting album that deserves a few listens before passing judgement.

The Tracks:

“The Love Within” – The first single, which I initially found annoying. It isn’t the best opener and the WAAAA WAAAA gets irritating quickly. That being said, the song is lyrically and instrumentally pleasing. It is much better live and far more infectious. Still if they dropped the WAAAA I would be a much happier listener.

“Only He Ca Heal Me” – The second track is an improvement to “The Love Within”. It has a unique and addictive sound that I found quite pleasing. Much heavier in the religious theme-ing, but in a satisfying package that really stands out here. Not quite single worthy, but a good track to return to and a nice addition to this album.

“So Real” – It is a soft track, but I found it really satisfying. Possibly the best track on the album, and the first track to really catch my attention. This was my first hook, and the track that really inspired me to keep coming back to the album, and with each listen I find more to enjoy.

“The Good News” – This one gets a bad rap, but I feel this is completely undeserving. I first heard this one live in Tokyo and really liked it. It made me hopeful for the new album. It seems to fit the aesthetic in its religious references, but sounds a lot more like Four. I would argue that it is a nice change from an album that has a sound lacking in diversity.

“Fortress” – Really awful. Lyrically it is interesting but the presentation really contains nothing for me. The lowest point on the album. “Fortress” makes me want to sleep. The soft energy and emotion will likely appeal to some, but not me.

“Different Drugs” – This one seems to get a lot of praise online. I think the hype exists solely for it’s resemblance to Bloc Party of old. The track builds nicely, growing more and more intense, but still had it been a part of the old Bloc Party releases it would have been left a b-side, bonus track, or a quick skip.

“Into The Earth” – Another track that feels really reminiscent of Four. I really like this track, and find it a highlight of the album. If you liked “The Good News” or Four you’d probably enjoy this one.

“My True Name” – Really lacking in energy. There is a bit here that some will find enjoyable, but for me it just sound apathetic. The more I listen to it, the more it gets to me, but not in a good way.

“Virtue” – This is a callback to the first single, particularly with the WAAAA WAAAA return. I think it is a better track than “The Love Within” but really brought down by the irritating WAAAAs.

“Exes” – Another track they played in Tokyo, but this one came across quite boring. It could have been my lack of familiarity paired with tracks pacing. It reminds me a bit of “Two More Years” but not quite as good. It is a stronger soft ballad for them, and I think it sounds much better on the album. It is lacking in uniqueness on this album, but on another it might be better received.

“Living Lux” – The albums close is a fitting conclusion. There isn’t anything amazing here, but it feels much more heartfelt and inspired than much of Hymns. I feel like a I can understand where Kele is coming from on Hymns, thanks to this track.

“Eden” – a quite cool and unique Bloc Party track that fits the albums style really well. They played it live and it wasn’t very impressive, but lyrically it was very memorable. I think this one deserves to be more than just a bonus track. I heard it was planned as the albums opener, which I would have loved. It is heavy in the religious imagery, but looking at the title makes this little of a surprise. It doesn’t have the makings of a great stand alone song, but a great addition to a concept album.

“Paraíso” – This is a bonus track that I often see praised. I don’t completely agree. It isn’t the most appealing track on the album, but it has a really stand out guitar riff. I think it is only really great in the context of this album. Most of its praise I feel is only warranted in it’s improvement of other tracks like “Fortress”.

“New Blood” – A really strong bonus track. Better than a lot of the album, it would have been nice to have given a place on the standard edition. It seems a shame that some of the better tracks were wasted as bonus tracks. It corroborates my idea that Kele isn’t always the best at picking his own tracks and direction despite his clear talent.

“Evening Song” – The only bonus track I don’t really care for. I think it is quite boring and un-unique. Quite generic and forgettable. Stick to the other bonus tracks.

Overall the album is nice. It sounds good, it sounds cohesive. If it wasn’t Bloc Party I’d probably like it more, but I know what they are capable of. Bloc Party’s softer work isn’t bad, as you hear in the back half of A Weekend In The City, this one just feels uninspired through most of the album. Bloc Party’s worst album yet, below Intimacy even. I miss the glory days of Silent Alarm and A Weekend In The City, I felt Four was a cool and satisfying new direction for the band to take, but this one is disappointing. There are enough glimpses of classic Bloc Party to continue listening to the better tracks. After the departure of half the band, it doesn’t feel like it is still really Bloc Party, so I’ll pretend this is another one of Kele’s solo work and in that context think of it as an improvement. I feel it deserves a 3 out 5 stars.

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