By the mid-2000s, New York City had lost its mantle as the epicentre of cool. The focus, once again, came back to the UK – the guitars were loud, the drums were swinging, and every last frontperson was yelping to be heard amid the growing clatter. The post-punk revival was in full swing, and chief among those flying the flag were London’s Bloc Party.
With the vivid lyrical imagery and distinctive vocals of Kele Okereke, the angular pedal-stomping of Russell Lissack, the understated low-end of Gordon Moakes, and the stick-breaking tom tom flurries of Matt Tong, theirs was a thoroughly dynamic and quintessential approach to indie rock. 2022 sees the band releasing their sixth studio album, Alpha Games, the first to feature the updated rhythm section of bassist Justin Harris and drummer Louise Bartle.
Balancing vintage guitar chops with frequent homages to club music, Bloc Party have outlived many of their peers from the mid-2000s indie rock scene. With that, let’s take a look at some of the band’s finest moments, from ambitious upstarts to festival headliners and back again.
One rule: no ‘Banquet’. Not because it’s not great – it obviously is – but we reached the point of having nothing left to say about this indie-disco classic years ago.
1. ‘She’s Hearing Voices’, Bloc Party EP (2004)
Legend has it that Kele Okereke handed Bloc Party’s demo – on compact disc, no less – to Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos after a 2004 gig. The demo included ‘She’s Hearing Voices’, which prompted Kapranos to immediately enlist Bloc Party as Franz Ferdinand’s tour support act. This is the very definition of an essential track: If not for ‘She’s Hearing Voices’, we may not even be talking about Bloc Party right now. This jolting, mantra-like rumble, complete with a Matrix-referencing chorus and steely, immovable basslines, announced the band’s arrival.
2. ‘Little Thoughts’, Little Thoughts EP (2004)
Though sporting little of the state-of-the-art production that would ensue on their subsequent albums, ‘Little Thoughts’ didn’t need anything fancy to get its point across. The song’s chopping guitars, wailing drums, and instantly-memorable chorus were all harbingers of greatness to come for Bloc Party.
The tenderness of Okereke’s verse delivery is a contrast to his increasingly-desperate chorus yelps, a juxtaposition that marked him as one of the scene’s more engaging frontpeople. Meanwhile, Lissack’s buoyant lead guitar playing allows the song to ascend to emotional peaks. To this day, ‘Little Thoughts’ is Bloc Party’s most underrated single.
3. ‘Like Eating Glass’, Silent Alarm (2005)
It’s the drawn-out sound of an open high E string, but for those that came of age at the dawn of the 21st century, it’s a dog whistle. You know what’s coming next – a procession of drums being hit like they owe Matt Tong money, an urgent cascade of guitars, and one of the decade’s most memorable opening lines: “It’s so cold / In this house.” Welcome to Silent Alarm, the Platinum-selling indie-rock giant that would completely dominate 2005’s best-of lists and cement Bloc Party as the hottest band in the world. Opening numbers rarely get bigger and bolder than this.
4. ‘So Here We Are’, Silent Alarm (2005)
There are many cuts from Silent Alarm that could be deemed essential – the robust, sociopolitical diatribe that is ‘Helicopter’, the tender ‘This Modern Love’, the unyielding, heart-on-sleeve number ‘The Pioneers’. But in terms of tracks that expanded the still-blossoming concept of what a Bloc Party song could be, you can’t look past ‘So Here We Are’. A moment of shimmering beauty that has never quite been replicated in the band’s discography, its tenderness and dreamlike soundscapes created one of the most ethereal indie-rock moments of the last 20 years. Utterly stunning.
5. ‘Two More Years’, Silent Alarm (re-release) (2005)
Bloc Party tacked career-best singles onto the re-releases of each of their first two albums. We’ll get to the second one, but first, let’s home in on the victory lap that was ‘Two More Years’. The band’s second top-ten hit saw Moakes getting a rare lead vocal on its bridge, while it also served as a farewell – for now – to their more guitar-driven post-punk sound. Although the jury’s still out on what a “beloved polar bear” is, ‘Two More Years’ continues to endear more than a decade and a half after its release.
6. ‘I Still Remember’, A Weekend In the City (2007)
Though not as instantly revered as Silent Alarm, A Weekend In the City arguably contains just as many canonical Bloc Party songs. There’s the grand-scale of opener, ‘Song for Clay’, the intense paranoia of ‘Hunting for Witches’ and the propulsive club music of ‘The Prayer’ – and that’s just side A. Ultimately, however, it’s ‘I Still Remember’ that remains the most… well, memorable. A coming-out party of sorts for Okereke, this resplendent tale of queer love was an outlier within the distinctly hetero indie rock field. Its subversive nature, along with its timeless beauty, ensure this one’s classic status.
7. ‘Flux’, A Weekend In the City (re-release) (2007)
Even after proving their debut wasn’t a fluke, Okereke and co. had an ace up their sleeve following the release of A Weekend In the City. ‘Flux’ was Bloc Party’s first earnest attempt at an electro-pop charger, featuring an AutoTuned Okereke cutting shapes over whirring bass-synth and piercing leads. Despite being divisive among rock purists, this leap down the proverbial rabbit hole was a high-risk, high-reward move for Bloc Party. Not only did the band prove they weren’t one-trick ponies, but they made a considerable argument for being the best in show.
8. ‘Mercury’, Intimacy (2008)
Bloc Party completely deconstructed on their challenging third album. Unlike anything they had attempted previously, ‘Mercury’ abandoned rock entirely and saw the band pursuing a blend of alternative dance, chopped and screwed hip hop, and UK garage. Okereke, formerly a rather introverted live performer who stayed glued to his guitar, was now fully embracing his role as the band’s frontperson and – to quote the band themselves – running on bravado. And why not? While many other 2000s indie bands were running out of ideas by the end of the decade, Bloc Party were openly rejecting complacency.
9. ‘Ratchet’, The Nextwave Sessions (2013)
The wheels were starting to come off by the early 2010s. Album four (ahem, Four) received a relatively-muted response in 2012, and the following year, Tong exited the fold (with Moakes leaving not long after). As such, 2013’s Nextwave Sessions EP was the last hurrah for Bloc Party’s classic lineup – so, naturally, it boasts an undeniably fiery comeback single. A slicing piece of urban dance-punk, ‘Ratchet’ felt like the fire had been lit under the arse of the band once again.
10. ‘Traps’, Alpha Games (2021)
Bloc Party 2.0 weren’t able to shine on 2016’s messy Hymns, but a late 2010s tour that saw them playing Silent Alarm front-to-back garnered some of the best reviews of Bloc Party’s career. Under the auspices of this reset, the band returned with ‘Traps’ – a drop-D indie strut that showed Bloc Party could maintain both its later-period groove and its early-period energy. Louise Bartle showed off her chops and cemented herself as an equal to Tong, while Lissack proved his mettle with some of his best guitar work in over a decade. Bloc Party are back, baby.