reviews: music: bloc party – intimacy

Bloc Party I take Bloc Party seriously.

By this I mean that they are one of the few bands I actually listen to and by listen to, I mean that I sit down and pay attention to the music and the lyrics. I like a lot of bands, but there are a scant few that I return to time and time again. Joy Division is one, R.E.M. is another, Elbow is definitely up there and Bloc Party most assuredly rounds out the set.

For me, and I will assume for a lot of people, music is a very personal thing. This is not to say that I do not enjoy my fluffy pop or my occasional foray into old school gangsta rap, I do. But this is to say, that when I love a band, I really take the band to heart. For those who know me, you know how constantly I refer to High Fidelity as a bible to my life — I AM the female Rob Gordon. (Complete with relationship problems, neuroses and other high jinks. But that is for another post.) And like Rob, who arranges his music automusicgraphically, I too also do the same. I can get from one band to another by telling you where I was, when I first heard it and what I was doing (or who I was doing).

If my choices seem a little chaotic at times, that is totally okay. Straight and narrow never won any interesting awards. But this is not really about me, per se, but more about Bloc Party and the release of their third album, Intimacy, a mere 18 months after A Weekend In The City. The album was released digitally at the end of August, with the physical release set for, in the U.K. and U.S., at the end of October. Word on the street is that the title tracks available on the physical release will differ from the digital download, but like the good little fan girl I am, I will have procured both. Silent Alarm, their first album with the stunning single Helicopters, came out kicking and squalling to the world in 2005. A Weekend In The City was their “falling in love” album in 2007 and I wasn’t too terribly surprised to find out that Intimacy is their “break-up” album of 2008. When the title track is entitled, “Ares,” and the song begins with “War! War! War!,” I got the feeling that Kele Okereke was stalking my life.

So, then, I must step back and do a bit of back story before I continue. Bloc Party, like a multitude of other bands over the years, is a band I heard of but never really got “in to,” until I met TheEx. TheEx and I have an interesting back story in that musically, we were perfect. We could, and often did, spend hours talking about music from producers to labels to motifs, sound, lyrics and design. Our joint collection neared nearly 2000 compact discs (60% his), dozens of vinyls (his) and over 100 gigs of digital music (mostly mine). We were concert whores who would travel hours for a good show, only to turn around and come back home that very night. With him, I found my perfect music man, someone who could discuss with me the nuances of music on a variety of different levels and not have to explain to him why I was found of the production values of X album over Y album or why I loved A band over B band.

TheEx was crazy about Silent Alarm and was eagerly waiting for A Weekend in the CIty, which came out in the very beginning of our relationship. And I’m not quite sure what it was about A Weekend in the City, but that became “my” album while Silent Alarm became his. To me, A Weekend in the City became the anthem of our relationship. Every song, every melody, every lyric no matter how distant somehow spoke to me, about us. I could see him in every song and certain songs became “our” songs. Every time I heard “Sunday,” with or without him near me, my heart would swell with love for him, because he would love me in the morning when I was hung over and strung out. And even though I knew that On was about doing coke, to me the lines, You make my tongue loose/I am hopeful and stutter free, was about how I felt around him. He made me feel hopeful and stutter free — I could (and did) tell him everything and anything, anytime and any place.

At the time, I felt that he made me an honest woman and with him, I was so much better off than without him. I like Silent Alarm, but A Weekend in the City had this energy that I responded to, a hunger if you will for living and for life. I liked the simplicity of Kele’s lyrics and the fact that he was able to lyrically say what he meant without going overboard with metaphor and unnecessary imagery. (I’m looking at you Radiohead and Coldplay — fucking wankers.) I adored the fact that every single time I heard the album, I heard something different and that everything about A Weekend in the City resonated with me emotionally and intellectually.

Like most intimate of relationships, TheEx and I did not end with a quiet whimper but with a huge, ferocious fuck-off bang. For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to reclaim my musical tastes but have found that in reality, I was hiding from it. I forewent listening to Pandora, XM and my CD collection on general to podcasts and NPR. I did not want to put myself through musical depression – even with bands that I claimed as mine were also his and by listening to said bands would conjure up all the feelings, the good with the bad.

When I found out Bloc Party had released a new album digitally, with the physical release forthcoming, I was surprised. I was, apparently, not the only one. Bloc Party has been touring almost non-stop since the release of A Weekend in the City, which was released in February 2007. Other than a single released last summer, the synth dance song “Flux,” there has been no talk or announcement of a new album. Shortly after the digital release at the end of August, reviews started showing up by the beginning of September, with a split vote on Intimacy.

People fell into several camps

  1.  That Intimacy was an attempt to return to the area that Silent Alarm began, failed with A Weekend in the City and was struggling to fill and was a mixed-bag.
  2. That Intimacy not only returned to the horizon of Silent Alarm but surpassed it. A Weekend in the City? A blip and could be written off as their sophomoric disc (which it is).
  3. That Intimacy failed on many levels, was absolute drek and that Bloc Party, as a whole, are a bunch of pretentious wankers.

For me, I’m apparently in the minority. I love A Weekend in the City more so over Silent Alarm (and thought it was one of the best albums of 2007) but Intimacy is growing on me. I was looking for, excuse the obvious, but the intimacy and the slowness of A Weekend in the City only to be greeted by dance pop and synth experiments hold over from their single, Flux, which at first annoyed me. But it is the lyrics, oh $deity, I love you Kele, the lyrics more than make up for the choppiness of the disc, the messiness that is “Zephyrus” and the overwhelming urge they have to experiment TOO much.

But it is with their weaknesses that they also have their biggest strengths — Bloc Party has no problem selling out arenas, have gained a fairly successful following in the U.S. and tour almost constantly. They have hit almost every major festival abroad and in the U.S. The fact that they have, somehow, managed to get into the studio to record a third album and not only record it but have the production completed in a relatively short time is almost mind boggling. And according to the interview with bassist Gordon Moakes on pitchfork, the band is just as surprised as their fans at the quick turnaround.

I don’t view the turnaround as a negative thing, rather again, I look to the lyrics for the answers. If A Weekend in the City was about falling in love, relationships and living life, Intimacy is about breaking-up and the obvious, almost debilitating aspects of separating from the one you love. From “Ares,” declaring war on the person who wronged you, to “Halo” about questioning the love, to “One Month Off,” at the anger of one’s partner after a long term relationship ends, to that remembrance of the good times in “Better Than Heaven,” to the pitiful, desperate plea of return to that love in “Ion Square.”

Every relationship counselor (and Cosmo issue) will tell you that separation after a break-up tends to follow the same rules of grief that the death of a loved one follows:

  1. Denial. – “Mercury.” “Halo.” “Better Than Heaven.”
  2. Anger. – “Ares.” “One Month Off.”
  3. Bargaining. “Signs.” “Halo.” “Bilko.” “Trojan Horse.”
  4. Depression. “Signs.” “Halo.”
  5.  Acceptance. “Zephyrus.” “Ion Square.”

Some songs resonate with better topics than others, but the point is still there. This is Kele’s exorcism against the end of a love that obviously broke his heart. And it is with this, with Kele’s lyrics and the buffing of the depressing themes with synth tunes and dubbeats that most will find to be a turn-off and thusly, a shite album. Some will claim that this is a desperate attempt to grab the glory they had with Silent Alarm and failing while others will claim they are attempting to parody their influences and are bilking too much of their popularity by riding on the coattails of Coldplay and Radiohead. I don’t think Intimacy is a great album, but I do think it is a good one. I do agree that there is, at times, too much going on at one time while at others, it seems almost perfect.

While I would recommend it, I would recommend it after listening to the first two albums — like most great bands, you need to get the scope of the band’s lineage before diving in several albums in. With several months between the digital and physical release, who is to say what the physical album will sound like? And as for me, I unfortunately saw too much of TheEx inside the lyrics after my first spin with the disc a few weeks ago. The beginning of Trojan Horse chilling reminds me of the rituals that TheEx performed before we too made love. Signs, also eerily like the lasting days of our relationship. And Ares and One Month Off remind me of me, in those “OHNOESHEDIDNOT” moods I would would sometimes (occasionally) cycle through. Despite my initial reservation, Intimacy is the tip of the catharsis to push me over the edge. It is not the time for a new love or to sign a new lease, but at least now, I know that one day there will be.

My Dentist Says I have Hot’n’Sexy Teeth

Okay, he really did not say that, but that was what he was conveying with his “Excellent work, as always Lisa” on the commentary on my ereet brushing skills. I owe it all to Sonicare. Seriously.

The other day I received a few “nudges” from people about updating my LJ. “Hrm.,” I thought to myself, “It hasn’t been THAT long since I’ve updated.” Apparently, it HAS. Nearly two weeks. Eek. Let’s recap with our heroine shall we?

Sunday, April 1, Sara and I drove to Detroit to see Snow Patrol play at the Detroit State Theater. Little did we know that the exact same evening at the exact same time, there was a WWE event happening at the Civic Theater right next door, something going on across the street at Comerica Park for the Tigers and another event was taking place in the same neighborhood. Parking was scarce and we coughed up the $20 bucks to park in the ramp near the State Theater. After watching OK GO perform (which, ironically, they were pretty damn awesome live), Snow Patrol came on stage to the thundering applause of all the teenyboppers and hipsters that were either drunk or semi-drunk. We had few cute Asian girls in front of us who were beyond adorable and also beyond sober. Sara and I had ground floor “seats,” which in short meant we were less than 25 feet from the stage. That was exciting.

The show was excellent, not as good as Bloc Party mind you, but still excellent. Sara and I decided to leave during the “encore game” to head home and beat the traffic.

Hah. Hah. Hah.

Remember the casual mention of the other events earlier in this entry? Yes, well, it took us over an hour to get from the parking ramp to the highway – which was less than two miles away. The traffic guards, not local policemen but simple hired hands, were screaming at all the moronic drivers (okay, this IS Detroit after all), “KEEP FUCKING MOVING!”

Sara is one helluva navigatrix when it comes to this shit. She got us out of the jam and onto the highway fairly quickly. If left to my own devices, I’m sure that I would have been screaming at the traffic while slamming my hands on the steering wheel.

As we were hungry and also needed some gas, we decided to stop at one of the towns that litter the 96 highway between Grand Rapids and Detroit to fill up both tanks. Again, thinking that we were over 20 miles from downtown Detroit (if not more so) and heading westward, there shouldn’t have been an issue.

We were wrong. Again.

We stopped in the tiny town of Wixom where after slugging back caffeine, filling up the gas tank, we pulled into McDonalds. Where we waited for nearly 20 minutes in the same damn spot in the damn line to grab our “all white meat” chicken and greasy fries! Every restaurant in the vicinity is showing the same issue: Long lines, one person seemingly working and every redneck from Detroit to Lansing getting the same bright idea as we had, which was evident by all the yelling and screaming and waving of the fake title belts that we saw from their minivans and SUTs.

We hopped back on the road and drove another 15 miles to Brighton (Consequently, TheEx and I realised on our own road trip the previous weekend to Detroit to see Bloc Party that a good portion of the ‘burbs around Detroit were named after English towns. Brighton. Manchester. Birmingham, Pinckney, Chelsea and even a nod to the north with Dundee. If we really were feeling Anglophilic, we could have crossed over to Canada and driven to Essex, Middlesex and London.), where the longs were similarly as long but not as slow. Stuffed with McDonalds goodness, we headed home, arriving nearly four hours after we had got into the car. The two hour ride home was more than doubled and we concluded next time we attempt to go to a show in Detroit, we WILL be double checking with other local events first to see if said show is worth seeing with the hassle of the damn traffic and moronic drivers.

I also came to the brilliant conclusion that damn near every female on Earth wants a Snow Patrol song written about or sung to them. Think about it.

This past weekend, Easter weekend, TheEx and I made plans to travel up north to unwind and just chill. Our plans were shortened by a night as I had a four hour job interview with a local insurance company Friday morning, thus, instead of leaving Thursday evening as originally planned, we left Friday afternoon.

The weather around here has deteriorated from high 60s one day to freezing and snow the next, thus, by Friday afternoon, we packed our winter boots, mittens, and coats and drove three hours north, where the weather was much worse and our plans for a weekend of wine tasting, driving along the countryside, and checking out the 45th parallel were shot to shit.

TheEx and I took advantage of his parents not arriving until Saturday to laze around a Jacuzzi bathtub for several hours, with Tori Amos and R.E.M. piped in the overhead speakers. We watched tv, read magazines, and had the obvious gratuitous sex. Of course. After his parents arrived, nothing much had changed other than we went out to Funistrada for another excellent dinner, capped off with snow angels and watching Ameros Perros, which I had already seen but loved. We drove back to GR early Sunday afternoon to meet up with my family for Easter dinner, chocolate, and the highly anticipated season opener of The Sopranos (whoa baby!).

Though we have only been up north several times, the patterns are already setting in. Pizza the first night we arrive from Bear Paw or Johnny Salami’s. Errands into the village to pick up perishables for lunches and breakfast. Dinner at Funistrada for Veal Saltimbocca and Anniversary Chicken. French toast prepared Lisa way in the mornings. F1 racing or West Ham games in the afternoon. Lots of reading, relaxing, and naps.

And our lives in GR aren’t that much different. We’ve been cohabitating a schedule that somehow works. We haven’t killed each other yet, haven’t had a single tiff as of yet in regards to anything. And it’s weird, in a way, of this whole “living together” because we don’t think of it as living together but as an extended temporary stay. Once the whole “living together” thing is mentioned and we both do the deer-in-headlights look and just shrug our shoulders. We’ve got our routines, our patterns and our duties, it seems. I’ve declared that one night a week is “date night” were we go out and have a date. This weekend we are seeing a hockey game on Saturday night, the following weekend who knows? We now have the McPaper (USA Today) delivered in the mornings and the local rag on Sundays. We talk about days, our domesticity and our plans for future events. Trips that planned, things we want to do, places we want to go and lofty goals that seem within our reach at that bright, shining moment even if they are really just lofty goals.

But we don’t talk about the future, except in hypotheticals. “If we hypothetically get an apartment together,” I said last night as we walked to dinner at YesterDog’s before walking to Billy’s for Mikey’s surprise party, “I would like to hypothetically get a place in Eastown.” “I hypothetically agree with you that our hypothetical apartment should be within a four block radius of Eastown,” TheEx replied. “With a hypothetically large deck for grilling” he added later on that night.

But of course this idea of hypotheticals gets blown to shit when his mother this weekend, in all of her lovable charm and graciousness, asked me quite sincerely, “So Lisa, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?”

Our six month anniversary is coming up in a few weeks and that in and of itself is kinda crazy, weird, and awesome all at the same time. Because I can recall from our first dates, how I tried to break up with him several times because I didn’t, couldn’t predict that we would ever be in the same place emotionally at the same time. Why bother stringing me along after going through a nasty divorce (that is STILL being dragged out by petty mind fucks and vindictiveness)? And apparently, I was wrong (for once, it does happen) and we’ve worked out series of communication and nurturing skills (heh, how professional) that seem to work. And of course not everything is perfect and it can’t be, but, despite my initial reservation, I fall more in love with TheEx with each passing day.

Damn, that took several hours. I have more to update but I have to motor for work.