In Albums Of The Year, A.V. Club staffers write about a record that defined 2016 for us. Maybe it isn’t the year’s absolute best record—or even our No. 1 favorite—but it’s one that, without it, music would have been a whole lot less interesting.
Bloc Party, Hymns
Bloc Party dropped its long-awaited fifth album, Hymns, way back in January of this year. The last 11 months should have given fans enough time to decide whether they could get on board with the band’s revised lineup—new members Justin Harris and Louise Bartle joined in 2015—as well as a new direction, which has taken a turn for the subdued. I will cop to having undergone a brief period of adjustment myself, as I struggled to reconcile the creators of the urgent melodies of Silent Alarm with the ecumenically laced soundscapes herein.
If the album’s title was somehow lost on you, Hymns’ intro is full of the kind of woozy organ music that might open a religious service, perking up drowsy congregants in hardback pews. Things don’t get much more subtle from there, with tracks devoted to “Virtue” and the capital-H “He” with healing powers. Even though I’m a secular person, I don’t immediately bristle at the idea of someone sneaking their spirituality into my indie rock—if I did, I’d probably have to give up on a lot of music, period. So I gave the album a full listen or two upon its release, then the following week, and the week after that, as it crept its way into regular rotation. Hymns isn’t full of the usual Bloc Party barn burners, but it does get under your skin. The dreamy, R&B-tinged “So Real” and “Into The Earth” are the standout tracks, the latter encapsulating frontman Kele Okereke’s sense of stagnation, in his personal life and musical stylings.
On Hymns, Okereke works through the heartbreak brought on by older rifts with ex-lovers, as well as the more recent falling out with original bandmates Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes. It’s not at all uncommon to look for some spiritual guidance in these matters, and it certainly hasn’t been for Bloc Party, which has previously released a track titled “The Prayer.” Okereke and Russell Lissack have composed a musical exorcism to move them toward the next stage of the band’s career, past their bandmates’ departure and into a more introspective sound. Though it would’ve been nice to include something like “Better Than Heaven” to remind people that not all church masses are somber affairs, Hymns is far from a sonic slog—it’s a rebirth.