Bloc Party has a problem. It’s a problem that if left unsolved, will prevent them from putting out another great release, and it’s never been more apparent than on the recently-released The Nextwave Sessions, their new EP. The problem is this: Bloc Party is afraid to get messy.
The Nextwave Sessions is a competently-executed collection of five indie rock songs, starting with the dancy “Ratchet” and concluding with the soaring “Children of the Future.” Aside from “Ratchet,” “French Exit” is the EP’s other uptempo track. Meanwhile, “Obscene” and “Montreal” round out the EP’s slower songs.
Bloc Party shines in the albums slower tracks, showcasing their gift for writing moody, expansive tunes. “Obscene” calls to mind Intimacy’s “Biko” with its haunting, atmospheric sound, while “Children of the Future” seems to express a deep yearning, like A Weekend in the City’s “Sunday.”
But a release full of ballads would be boring, so Bloc Party is forced to include some faster, heavier tracks, and here’s where they start to fall apart. “Ratchet” and “French Exit” are decent, but utterly lifeless. They sound mechanical, almost computer-generated. The guitars sound angular and rhythmic, and the notes are played in a mezzo staccato, not permitted to ring out and overlap each other. It’s all too neat, too deliberate, too afraid of creating a mess.
That Bloc Party would choose this kind of sound for their heavier songs is puzzling, especially in light of what they did on Intimacy. Part of that album’s appeal was its sludgy, noisy production, which evoked images of seedy European discothèques and nighttime hangouts. On the other hand, “Ratchet” and “French Exit” sound like songs from nightclubs operated by robots.
“Obscene” and “Montreal” actually adopt a similar approach to their sound, but this gives them a stripped-down, intimate feel, which goes nicely with their jazzy tones. They’re certainly cleaner than “Children of the Future” in their production, but at least they indicate that Bloc Party knows how to tailor their sonic template to their softer songs. I can’t say the same for their louder songs, which just don’t exhibit the same level of care or craft. The band is afraid to do anything vaguely messy in their faster songs, a problem that also plagued Four, and that makes The Nextwave Sessions successful, but not triumphantly so.
It’s clear that Bloc Party has a problem, but it’s not clear what they should do to solve it, and I’m not sure that yet another hiatus is the solution. However, if they can still churn out competent releases without getting messy, then why bother taking the risk? They can still keep making decent music; they just won’t be able to regain my waning interest.