Drowned in Sound: Bloc Party: A Weekend in the City

Drowned in Sound
Bloc Party: A Weekend in the City
by Kodi McKinney, DJ at U92
kodimckinney@gmail.com

After British band Franz Ferdinand became an unlikely success in the United States, a more substantial act was bound to follow. But when Bloc Party guitarist/vocalist Kele Okereke put a demo in the hands of their singer (in addition to a DJ for BBC Radio One) after a 2003 concert, his band was already next in line. Now, one British platinum-selling and internationally acclaimed debut later, Bloc Party have returned for America with A Weekend in the City.
It might be expected that an English band would dumb it down somewhat to have a better chance on Yankee airwaves, but Bloc Party would have none of that. This sophomore release is quite a big step forward. To underscore the brilliance that lies ahead, consider one of A Weekend's weaker moments. Its name is "I Still Remember," and it's the second single as well as the 'safe' choice for American rock radio.
Though "I Still Remember" is actually an excellent song, it pales in comparison to the shining perfection of this album's finest passages. From the opening notes of Okereke's gripping voice in "Song for Clay (Disappear Here)," something special is clearly about to transpire; by the time the song builds to a subtle yet frantic immediacy, you're hooked. And then the band starts throwing curveballs. The bizarre samples that open and close "Hunting for Witches," the killer beat and slashing guitar of lead single "The Prayer," and the clashing layers of "Where Is Home?" all somehow fit together as ruthless dance-rock of the highest order. Lead guitarist Russell Lissack has his best moments in these songs as well, evoking Radiohead axe-man Jonny Greenwood yet adding an unusual penchant for ray gun sound effects.
If this all seems like glowing praise, one song called "Uniform" easily earns an equal amount by itself. Featuring the strongest chorus on an album filled with good ones, "Uniform" also has the greatest range of dynamics and the most provocative lyrics of any song on A Weekend in the City. It's actually epic, a rarity in modern music that makes it worthy of all conceivable respect.
Admittedly, few albums are perfect, and Bloc Party's latest is not either. The band hits the brakes for the change-of-pace track "On" and doesn't reach the same level of mastery consistently afterwards, leaving the album's second half to mostly get bogged down in the mid-tempo doldrums. They still redeem themselves, however, by soaring into the stratosphere with the closer "SRXT."
The only other thing keeping A Weekend in the City from the highest recommendation I can muster is the fact that it's really not anything new. It could even be tossed off as a more danceable, 80's-worshipping Radiohead. But Bloc Party can do it so brilliantly that all but the most jaded listeners will be too excited to care. While not a classic in the making, this is ridiculously close.
Rating: 4 out of 5
"I rarely flip over new releases, but it was all I could do not to give Bloc Party's A Weekend in the City perfect marks. Yeah, it's good." -K