Bloc Party – “The Nextwave Sessions EP”

(Photo Credit: Pitchfork)

Grade: C

Best Track: “Ratchet”

Coming off a hiatus with a huge tour and their highly-underrated 2012 album, “Four,” Bloc Party are set to take another hiatus. Something isn’t working inside the band, and while it’s frustrating to fans, it’s better to have them take breaks than try to fight through it and end in disaster. No sooner did they announce a hiatus than they also announced a new EP, “The Nextwave Sessions EP.” It serves either as a parting gift for a band that isn’t sure when they’ll be back, or a sign of the times to come, given it’s title. Either way, though, it doesn’t really serve any purpose and really just exists as five tracks that sound like they’ve been cut from previous albums.

Opening track “Ratchet” has been released as a single for the band, and it’s really a good song. A constant, tremolo guitar rhythm serves as a very danceable beat behind lyrics about getting, well, ratchet. It is a little different than tracks from their previous album. It’s a catchy track that can get stuck in your head after only a few listens. Second track “Obscene” follows up nicely, as a much softer and slower song, but maintaining a kind of catchy, tremolo rhythm. “French Exit” is kind of a throwaway loud song, and it definitely could’ve been a lost song from “Four,” and album that had it’s fair share of heaviness. The last two tracks, “Montreal” and “Children of the Future” are forgettable slow ones. Three of the five songs on this EP are slower. If this is a final piece for the band, it shouldn’t be how they’re remembered, given their famously crazy live performances.

Bloc Party actively promoted this EP, releasing one of the singles and getting it reviewed in different reviews. They haven’t intended this to be a little, “for fans only” release. But it just doesn’t feel like it has any reason to exist. All of these tracks could have just been on earlier albums, or better left unrecorded. “Ratchet” is great and “Obscene” is good enough, but they can’t save the fact that this EP’s mere existence is confusing. It’s a good listen for core fans. The rest of us just have to wait for the next reunion.

-By Andrew McNally

Dirty Beaches – “Drifters/Love is the Devil”

(Photo credit: Paste Magazine)

(Photo credit: Paste Magazine)

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: Drifters: “Belgrade,” “Mirage Hall”

Love is the Devil: “Alone at the Danube River,” “Like the Ocean We Part”

“Drifters/Love is the Devil” is, distinctly, a double album. In a digital age, double albums have become a rarity. These two albums, however, are not attempting to open up to today’s electronic world. Album one, “Drifters” is reminiscent of a troubled past, with a gloomy 80’s sound being it’s only clear influence. “Love is the Devil,” album two, is haunting and largely instrumental, not trying to fit into any specific era. “Drifters” is a very honest album, as Dirty Beaches – the stage name for solo musician Alex Zhang Hungtai, Taiwanese but operating in Montreal – wind through 37 minutes of some deep, unseated sonic emotions. It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the genre of music that “Drifters” falls under, as complex and winding guitar rhythms are fitted with equally complex electronic backgrounds. The vocals are largely unintelligible, but probably intentional on Hungtai’s sake. His vocal level ranges from barely audible (“Night Walk”) to semi-rhythmless belting (“Mirage Hall”). It is not the lyrics of the album that beg for the listener’s emotional response, but the volume levels and vocal rhythms. “Drifters” is a deep and gloomy work, asking for multiple listens. Hungtai is a difficult and pained man, and this album highlights the many facets to his own existence.

If “Drifters” did not rely on the lyrics, then “Love is the Devil” certainly doesn’t. The second album is largely instrumental, as Hungtai goes even further to explore his emotions musically. The second album is drastically different, but equally painful and complicated. “Love is the Devil” focuses less on songs and more on ideas. “Drifters” is certainly not radio-friendly material, but the tracks all had at least relative song structure. Hungtai experiments with concept instead of structure on the second album. The album, also hovering near 37 minutes, jumps from flowering epics (“Alone at the Danube River”) to moments of total silence (“Like the Ocean We Part”), all successfully displaying the ideas of a lonely man, recording music by himself.

The albums, though very different, are being sold together. When listened to back-to-back, they only further emphasize Hungtai’s varied and combined emotions. Taken on a basic level, the two albums share a similar and long-running lo-fi sound. But they are thematically different, taking vocal- and structure-based songs and placing them aside instrumental and unstructured songs. This is a very complex work, and is not going to be enjoyed by everyone. But listening to these two albums is an experience, and a look inside the life of a man that feels more like an opportunity to the listener, rather than an expression from the artist.

-Andrew McNally