- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

If the four friends in Bloc Party are dreaming, don’t wake them up. They’re having the kind of year that every young band would kill for. Critics and fans adore “Silent Alarm,” an urgent, impassioned debut disc. They score opening slots for big-name acts and play better venues during each consecutive tour.

Locally, Bloc Party sold out the Black Cat in April. On Monday the group opened for the reunited and much-beloved Pixies at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Tonight Bloc Party visits the 9:30 Club, which sold its last ticket for the show weeks ago.

This is no Ashlee Simpson, record-company-sponsored rise to prominence. Bloc Party connects with listeners because of an uncompromising approach to music and lyrics, a literally non-stop tour schedule and sweat-drenched live shows.

Great timing helps, too. During the past few years, music fans in the United States and Britain have latched onto bands like Interpol, which revere atmospheric early ‘80s post-punk albums smothered with despair and occasionally hope. Another crew of new groups, such as Franz Ferdinand and the Killers, added the sheen of disco-flavored pop to lighten the mood.

In this time of the mash-up, when old sounds return in homogenized, slightly altered forms, Bloc Party sprints past the pack of trend-hopping groups. At times familiar but never derivative, “Silent Alarm” tickles the long-term music memory with a Nirvana-style bridge (“Positive Tension”) or a quick guitar effect reminiscent of U2 (“Banquet”). It draws inspiration from a kaleidoscope of pop music influences and transforms them into 14 captivating tracks worthy of all the buzz.

The British band’s ability to rethink common combinations of vocals, guitar and rhythm section instruments shines on “Positive Tension.” Singer Kele Okereke adopts choppy, hip-hop phrasing as Gordon Moakes (bass) and Matt Tong (drums) deliver a crisp and spacious bottom end.

Other bands would have crammed the chorus with noisy guitar, but Bloc Party knows better. It adds a percolating synthesizer during the hook, but builds tension and momentum by holding guitarist Russell Lissack’s entrance until the second verse. The song crests with a skittering, punk-funk finale.

Though Mr. Okereke downplays the political messages of “Silent Alarm,” his words mirror the uncertainty and skepticism of his listeners. It’s refreshing and truthful to hear someone who’s equally agitated by the reality of war-time casualties and reality TV’s junk culture.

He’s more pragmatist than idealist when he cries, “Are you hoping for a miracle?” on the ferocious “Helicopter.” Later, on the desert-dry “Price of Gas,” angry chants of “war!” snap in time to the snare drum.

“We’re living in skewed times,” Mr. Okereke told Interview magazine. “I’ve realized that a lot of this record is coming to terms with relationships, the way that I see people, with the world, trying to explain something I can’t quite explain.”

• • •

Amsterdam’s Bettie Serveert achieved “next big thing” status in 1992 after it released the standout album “Palomine.” It’s fair to say that huge fame didn’t follow, but Bettie Serveert remains active even after so many of its contemporaries faded away.

The band, which plays the Black Cat tonight, rode to prominence on indie-rock’s momentous early ‘90s wave. Since then it’s outlived the rise and decline of pop music’s biggest trends of the past decade: grunge, trip-hop, boy bands, garage rock. On its seventh album, “Attagirl,” Bettie Serveert sounds most vital when pursuing non-traditional arrangements and showcasing singer/songwriter Carol van Dyk’s whiskey-smooth vocals.

As if to say, “we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere,” Miss van Dyk begins the disc by singing, “Don’t give up on me.” The flighty pop of “Dreamaniacs” shifts to a Middle Eastern-tinged flavor on the title track.

Bettie Serveert, whose core members are Ms. van Dyk, guitarist Peter Visser and bassist Herman Bunskoeke, begins to exhibit its staying power on track four, “Greyhound Song.” Launched with a rockabilly twang, the band steers into dreamy interlude, followed by woozy guitar slides that dip like the hills on a roller coaster.

The tender, acoustic-only “You’ve Changed” leads into the dance-floor thump of “Versace,” which pairs dark synthesizer stabs with keyboard-created strings.

And to relive the glory days, the group loads “Hands Off” with a blur of speedy, catchy hooks. The lesson to young bands: Always experiment, never repeat, and you’ll be able to outlast the short-lived trends, too.


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