Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
I’m not entirely sure where I first heard a song from my third album, but I’m willing to bet it was on the soundtrack of FIFA ‘06, of all places. Video game soundtracks were a fruitful source of new music for me, with NHL ‘03 introducing me to Jimmy Eat World and Queens of the Stone Age, Madden ‘07 going full emo with Saves the Day, AFI, and 30 Seconds to Mars, or Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it) getting weird with Basement Jaxx and Reel Big Fish.
There was one song on FIFA ‘06, though, that stood just a little bit taller than all the others. ‘Helicopter’ was the fifth single from “Silent Alarm,” the debut album from British band Bloc Party. ‘Helicopter’ pummels you right out of the gate with tumbling guitars, rapid-fire drums, and a perfectly locked in bass groove. And this is all before you hear Kele Okereke caterwaul on top of it all. I was definitely in.
“Silent Alarm” is loud and raucous, sure, but it’s also one of the most carefully planned albums I’ve ever heard. Listening to “Silent Alarm” is like looking at the construction drawings of the Eiffel Tower, or watching a famous chef construct their most celebrated dish – every little piece interlocks and plays off of each other. From the opening guitar wail on ‘Like Eating Glass’ to the chanted dirge of ‘Compliments,’ each track locks in quickly and builds forward momentum; the guitars bob and weave, turning on a dime, the drums provide kinetic energy that powers the other instruments, and Kele sings about boredom, love, and anger both personal (‘Blue Light,’ ‘So Here We Are’) and political (‘Helicopter,’ ‘Banquet,’ ‘The Price of Gas’).
Many people credit Matt Tong’s drumming for the success (and danceability) of “Silent Alarm” but I always come back to Kele. Although his desperate need for experimentation and change bogged down the later Bloc Party albums, he’s in his zone here. His singing is most immediate on the bigger, louder songs – moving from talk-singing, to soaring falsetto, to urgent insistence all in the span of a verse on ‘Banquet’ or channeling Bono on the chorus of ‘The Pioneers,’ but the quieter parts of “Silent Alarm” hold their own as well. ‘Blue Light,’ ‘This Modern Love,’ and ‘So Here We Are’ provide the album with some breathing room and some of its most arresting moments. The portion of ‘Blue Light’ where Kele sings “the gentlest feeling” while the guitar rises up to meet him, or the mid-section of ‘This Modern Love’ where the chorus of voices backs up Kele singing the song title are both hidden gems in an album full of apparent ones.
This review is getting long winded, so I’ll end it by recommending “Silent Alarm” to anyone looking for an album that wears its heart on its sleeve while still urging everyone to get up and dance.