Bloc Party are back after a six-year hiatus, and it has nothing to do with the online revival of “indie sleaze”. Though the band’s 2005 debut album Silent Alarm went platinum and epitomised the musical modus operandi of the mid-2000s – uptempo, propulsive beats and impassioned melodies sung in a British accent – they were not simply swept up in a trend: formed in 1999 at Reading Festival, Bloc Party were one of its originators. And now, with the release of their sixth album, Alpha Games, their musical identity is clearer than ever, unobscured by the litany of other bands that homogenised the landscape 15 years ago.
Bloc Party’s frontman, Kele Okereke, has the type of voice that can simultaneously evoke the mundane and the profound. Alpha Games sizzles with frustration and bitterness; it was written over the past three years, a turbulent period in British politics. Okereke spits out lines imbued with playground melodrama, or repeats call-to-action mantras. “The Peace Offering”, the album’s final song, opens with a mellower atmosphere that steadily builds into angry noise – here, Okereke urges us over and over to “do the right thing”. On “Callum Is a Snake” there is a blatant irritation in his voice when he sings: “I had a lot of time for you/But now you’ve got me in the streets looking like a mug.” This sense of defiance permeates the album, even in its softer moments.
Bloc Party are experts at creating and maintaining tension. “Day Drinker” opens the record with harmonic dissonance and an air of discomfort. On “Rough Justice”, a track that oozes with a kind of ironic glamour (“we be kind of choosy, put us in the movie/First in the jacuzzi, gang gang all the way”), relentless drum beats create an almost manic anticipation that never reaches a climax. “The Girls Are Fighting” is slow, repetitive and develops a sinister quality thanks to its circular riff and recurring title lyric. Another of Bloc Party’s trademark musical devices is for the band to play in the same rhythm as Okereke’s vocals, as in the chorus of “You Should Know the Truth”. The millisecond break in between each note is like a tiny electric shock, pulling us back from the propulsive motion we feel elsewhere in the music. The effect is both euphoric and unsettling.
Alpha Games is sharp and sour, never relaxing. Yet it does contain moments of the emotive, transcendent indie that spoke to so many adolescent millennials. It is not dazzling or surprising; it is what we might have expected from Bloc Party two decades into their career. But with that comes the unavoidable fact they know exactly what they’re doing.