Top 10 of the decade - eighth entry
Bloc Party – She’s Hearing Voices (2004)
(series growing here)
In dance the turn of the century initially brought more of the same – more house and techno, more garage, more jungle – as if to explicitly downplay the importance of a new millennium to escapist consumption of tailored sound. This was until grime’s desire to authorise, dubstep’s later experimentation in a different tempo and time signatures and to some extent house’s minimalisation/digitisation wrought a welcome broadening out, leaving what you could call post-dance still in fecund shape as the decade ends.
It was in guitar music where the need for innovation was most pressing. OK, those of us who had been actively celebrating its demise in the 90s after its last great leap forward with Pixies, MBV, Dinosaur Jr didn’t expect innovation as such but some energisation, after all the sludge of Oasis and grunge and the tired poses and hackneyed themes in most of Britpop, would be welcome. Guitar music would always be lucky in some respects, it had the benefits of an overground infrastructure always willing to support a band at the first scent of ‘greatness’ (you could be a skaghead nicking your bandmate’s stuff but also the ‘saviour of British pop music’). But it could stymie a band stylistically as the earnest messianism of bands like Coldplay became something A&R men wanted to repeat.
As a punter, and grateful recipient of my partner’s industry freebies, most of the digging would be far away from the new gear but into a post-punk era which was being knocked into shape by Simon R’s Rip it Up (the talk at Boogaloo seemed an important moment), general blogland curation and some excellent comps such as Andrew Weatherall’s Nine O’Clock Drop in 2000. With the dancier, electronic sounds of the era already being recovered through lingering involvement in electronic house scenes, this digging would include the more obvious bands that I’d always had half an eye on such as the Banshees, Cure, Fall and Talking Heads, more ‘seminal’ acts like ACR, Public Image Limited, Gang of Four and Magazine and occasional forays even further in to bands like Pere Ubu or Mission of Burma (there was always more to discover but listening habits meant I didn’t get much further, even with the guidance on hand). The ideas! the manifestos! the experimentation! Luckily all the decent new bands that were to break through were also casting aside recent history and taking the same inspiring route.
All this is an incredibly long-winded intro into saying that Bloc Party make the first of two entries for ‘indie’ music with She’s Hearing Voices, the version available on import from US label Dim Mak’s ‘Bloc Party ep’, the original Banquet ep or as a 7” single in its own right on the Trash Aesthetic label, not the vastly inferior re-recording on the album Silent Alarm. This was another Corky recommendation (and on his decade top 10) and had everything I would look for in revitalised indie music – energy, edge and the drama of the female schizophrenic subject all driven by the frenetic but tight drumming of Gordon Moakes and the clipped stylings of Russell Lissack on guitar. It’s not a post-punk pastiche by any means but renews the spirit of the era. As Pitchfork said in review of the Bloc Party ep: ‘Luckily, Bloc Party fare much better musically than they do rhetorically-- there's nothing ambiguous about their rollicking, poppy post-punk.’
Bloc Party have their critics for often joyless workouts live, Kele’s strained vocals, occasional indie-schmindie tendencies (Voice is further described in P’Fork as ‘sounding like Isaac Brock jamming with TV on the Radio’). It’s fair to say that this is the one effort of theirs that I’ll take with me into iTunes obsolescence, but then I favour bands’ singular moments. Trash veterans Kele and co are on the right side of the divide, not willing to churn out identikit long players, exposing prejudice in their blokish male industry and embracing experimentation on their own terms as well as enlisting others (there is a great remix album of Silent Alarm – although Alkan turns in a lazy edit of my fave – and a fantastic Burial re-rub of Where is Home on the Flux ep).
On stage it’s all about the rhythm section and you see proper dancing unlike for most guitar bands. I was a little harsh in that Boogaloo Rip It Up review for lumping in Bloc Party with your Killers or Franz Ferdinands simply working in 70s/80s styles because that was the thing to do again, because She’s Hearing Voices is a great emblem for late-period UK indie conceived in post-punk but transcending its influence.