Bloc Party Album “Hymns” Review

Bloc Party are one of the biggest, and most successful bands from the 2000s indie-rock scene. Known for the sophistication of their albums, and for not being afraid to explore uncharted territory, the band’s new album “Hymn” is their newest experiment. Like all experiments, “Hymns” had its faults, but for the most part is an excellent addition to their repertoire.

The main fault with the album is its incoherence as a whole, as each song vastly contrasts with the next. Single “The Love Within” belongs in the dance genre, and hints at an exciting new field for Bloc Party to explore. During the band’s hiatus after losing bassist Gordan Moakes and drummer Matt Tong, front man Kele Okereke recorded a series of dance songs as a solo artist, so his influence on Hymns is clear. The Love Within also suggests that Bloc Party is drawing influence from bands like The Wombats, whose dance music is very similar to the direction Bloc Party takes on this album. The single stands out for its synth-like chords, however, Okereke revealed that there is not synth at all in the song, instead praising guitarist Russell Lissack for his innovation, saying

“It’s been very interesting watching Russell [Lissack] play the guitar, he’s using his instrument in a way I’ve never seen anyone use it. He’s always had a mind for effects and gadgets and whatnot, but with this record he’s taking his playing off the fretboard and it’s something else.”

“Hymns” may appear to allude to a religious symbolism, however, according to Okereke he has no religious affiliations at all. The album’s name could allude to the band’s heavy use of a choir throughout. The choir appears in several songs, including Only He Can Heal Me and My True Name.

The album as a whole is inconsistent, but most songs share one major flaw: longevity. Several songs, including Only He Can Heal Me, Exes, Fortress and Different Drugs, would have been more enjoyable if they were one minute shorter. Instead, the listener must endure outros that last for half of the song. Fortress and Different Drugs overall were disappointments, as their monotonic melodies and arrangements almost put the listener to sleep.

Fortunately, Bloc Party is one of those bands that release one bad song for every three good songs, and this album is no different. So Real and The Good News both showed Bloc Party’s ability to take a good riff, or catchy lyrics, and turn it into something one can listen to over and over again without overthinking, or experimenting to the point of ruin. Into the Earth, with a staccato-based clean guitar riff underlying Okereke’s bass tone, and his skillful manipulation of such basic elements as volume and emphasis, was a standout, as was the intriguing coupling of finger plucking on the guitar with smooth, drawn-out harmonies by the choir in “My True Name.”

Okereke sang certain songs in a staccato, with varying degrees of success. In “Only He can Heal Me” it is awkward, and uncomfortable to listen to, however, it sounds much more at home with the arrangement of “Virtue.” In the latter, much of the backing arrangement is syncopated staccato, and Okereke’s voice flows seamlessly through the song.

After listening to the whole album, I can hear that it is supposed to rise and fall, take the listener on Bloc Party’s journey since becoming an indie-rock hit in the early 2000s, their hiatus, and their rebirth as a new band. While there are several good songs, they just missed the mark with a couple of them. The highs were very well done, and an exciting insight into the band’s potential future style, but the lows were too drastic and left the listener wondering if they were still listening to the same album. Those songs were uneventful and, unfortunately, forgettable.
On the other hand, the diversity of this album appears to be exactly what Okereke intended, saying,

“[It] feels like a culmination of what we’ve been working on with our past four records… some of the most gentle music we’ve ever made, maybe some of the most abrasive music we’ve made.”

It is not unusual for a band to experiment with various techniques and genres. Sometimes, like Taylor Swift’s transition to pop music, it is highly successful, and sometimes, as with Bloc Party’s songs Fortress and Different Drugs, they fall short. Bloc Party are good enough, however, to make those mistakes, and know that they will always release enough good songs to maintain their fan base, and continue to make music. In a time of great change, losing band members and needing to find a new direction, experimentation is exactly what they needed. In an interview with, Okereke said,

“The range of the songs is quite extreme and quite diverse. In terms of an overall aesthetic, it definitely feels like we’ve moved into a different place in terms of recording and arranging. It’s us but it feels like it’s us in a way that we haven’t ever been before.”

Kele openly admitted that this album was “quite extreme and diverse,” so it should not surprise us when that statement turned out to be true.