Bloc Party

Hymns

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For most of their career, it seemed like Bloc Party could incorporate just about any sound into their music and still sound like themselves: On Weekend in the City and Intimacy, they added electronic elements to their razor-sharp dance-punk with anthemic results, and flirted with grunge and metal when they returned to jackknifing riffs and rhythms on Four. However, the biggest risk they take on Hymns might be continuing under the Bloc Party name. Between Four and this album, drummer Matt Tong and bassist Gordon Moakes left the group and were replaced by Louise Bartle and former Menomena member Justin Harris. While the new members don't sound like hired hands, the way Moakes and Tong's taut, astringent playing balanced Kele Okereke's earnestness is missed on Hymns. Indeed, Okereke's fondness for soaring choruses and meditations on sex, drugs, and faith -- and how they often blur together -- provide the main connection to the band's previous work. However, from the album's title to its lyrics, Hymns' expressions of searching and salvation are more overt than ever. Backed by slide guitars and a stomping beat, Okereke sings "I used to find my answers in the Gospels of St. John/Now I find them in the bottom of a shot glass" on "The Good News," and the results are both heavy-handed and not hard-hitting enough. Hymns' ballads are some of its strongest moments, and, not coincidentally, the most reminiscent of Bloc Party 1.0 and Okereke's solo career. "My True Name" and "Fortress" serve as reminders that their plaintive melodies and soul-baring are still potent, while "Different Drugs'" chemically enhanced portrait of being alone together recalls Bloc Party's highest emotional peaks. When the band attempts to branch out, the results are mixed: "So Real" and "Into the Earth" are intimate, guitar-driven sketches that make the most of Hymns' more straightforward sounds and emotions, but the bubbling "The Love Within" feels simplistic instead of euphoric. Ultimately, Hymns finds Bloc Party stuck between a fresh start and continuing their legacy, leaving their identity -- which once seemed so distinctive -- compromised.

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