- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bloc Party

Intimacy

Atlantic Records

The biggest surprise of “Intimacy,” Bloc Party’s third full-length studio album, is its very existence. In a Web chat with fans last week, the British indie band announced that the disc would drop online within a matter of days, with a physical CD to follow in late October. In its suddenness, the move mirrored Radiohead’s advance online release of “In Rainbows.”

Yet Bloc Party’s labels (Wichita in the United Kingdom and Atlantic in the United States) aren’t allowing the quartet to be quite as generous as Radiohead, which adopted the novel strategy of allowing listeners to pay what they wanted to download “In Rainbows.” “Intimacy” clocks in at $10 for the digital download, $20 if you want to pre-order the CD as well.

The new album is a mixture of grandeur and grandiosity with lush, intense synthesized orchestrations that occasionally swell like movie scores. Frontman Kele Okereke and producers Paul Epworth and Garret “Jacknife” Lee preserve the essence of the Bloc Party sound — minor-key rock thrumming with rhythmic intensity — while taking the band in a new direction.

Bloc Party is a world away from being the four-piece indie band of its 2005 debut, “Silent Alarm,” on which the musicians sounded like four guys experiencing the sheer joy of wailing on their instruments. On “Intimacy,” the music is considerably more sophisticated — with polyrhythms, blattering synth horns and a new palette of electronic sound effects.

“Intimacy” puts the band’s disappointing sophomore effort, “Weekend In the City,” in a new context — as a warm-up for the transformation from guitar-driven rock to a more eclectic electronic sound. Indeed, the track “Biko,” a melancholy song that uses arpeggiated guitar chords to convey an amalgam of longing and regret, feels like a musical reworking of last year’s “Hunting for Witches.”

Mr. Okereke’s voice spans many moods. On the opening track “Ares,” he’s powerful and commanding. On “Mercury,” he blends almost timidly into the background, as if aware that his vocal part is not the focal point of the song. On “One Month Off,” he sounds innocent and hurt, while on “Halo,” he comes off as a blase rocker.

The single “Mercury” is emblematic of the band’s new approach. It opens with a barrage of rap effects, including looping edits of Mr. Okereke’s vocal track, a sprinkling of scratch, beat-boxing and old-school hip-hop beats.

The song builds with horn bursts that begin as low growls before gradually asserting themselves — sounding a bit like the aggressive, syncopated soundtrack that accompanies the choreographed fight scenes in classic samurai movies. From there, the song accelerates into an orgy of synth, conga drums and strings before expiring, seemingly from its own intensity.

This four-minute track is easily the most ambitious and one of the most fully realized songs of the popular band’s brief career.