Picking out a record to buy based solely on a positive consensus in the music press is risky. It's difficult to know what's worth buying when there are so many nameless, faceless bands out there, all critically lauded. Recently, the British quartet Bloc Party have created a buzz in the indie music press that's begun to be difficult to ignore. It's the same kind of attention that The Strokes and Interpol received after their debut efforts a few years back. And after hearing Bloc Party's debut record, “Silent Alarm”, it's clear why they've been given so much attention. Whatever sub genre you might put the afformentioned bands into, Bloc Party are most definitely a part of.

The opening notes of “Silent Alarm” alone are enough evidence to prove this is so. The simple, repetitive two string picking could have easily been swiped straight from the newest Interpol record. The guitar tone is the same; lightly distorted with lots of twang. Bloc Party isn't a band that's going to surprise the listener, so from here, many will be able to tell whether the rest of the record will be enjoyable.

The guitar work on “Silent Alarm” is largely generic. It feels like the guitarists are lazily pumping out simple riffs and letting their amps and effects units do the work for them. But, to be fair, they make good use of delay throughout the record, drawing clear influence from U2's The Edge in his early days. And when they do choose to manipulate their tone further, it's in a pleasant, subtle way. But this doesn't make up for their big flaw: their tendancy to write aimless amelodic riffs. Their lack of substance puts too much pressure on the vocalist.

And singer Kele Okereke isn't nearly strong enough to handle this task. His vocals range from timid to downright obnoxious. “Silent Alarm” might be a little hard to swallow for many Americans easily irritated by the stereotypical Brit rock whine. He has Robert Smith's tone down perfect, which might sound appealing at first, but somehow it only works on the slower tracks. Otherwise it's awkward, like Robert Smith fronting a dance rock band.

Strangely enough, it's the bass and drums that save “Silent Alarm” from being easily dismissed. Throughout the album, the bassist manages to add melodic support to tracks where the guitar is lackluster. And drummer Matt Tong, who might be a bit too talented to be in Bloc Party, keeps things interesting on the upbeat tracks. The talent of these two members immediately sets Bloc Party apart from other bands in their genre, who are well known for their mind numbing, monotonous rhythm sections.

But “Silent Alarm”'s largest flaw is its lack of standout tracks. Not to say that the album's material is mediocre, it just never rises above a desirable songwriting threshold. Strong melodies are almost completely absent. The energy of the album makes up for this at times, but with a band like Bloc Party, it's important to have a fair amount of catchy, not just interesting songs.

If Bloc Party doesn't follow “Silent Alarm” with something distinct and melodic, they're going to find themselves forgotten in the US. They're a band without much of an identity, unable to standout amongst their peers. Sometimes they're The Rapture, sometimes they're Interpol, and sometimes they're U2, but they can't seem to find a sound of their own. And if that's the case, why would you invest in Bloc Party when you can go out and buy the real thing?


Originally printed in the MSU Exponent: http://exponent.montana.edu

A security device used to alert outsiders of an emergency situation, usually to call the police in the event of an armed robbery. They appear at banks, convenience stores and any place that accepts many cash purchases. The alarms take the form of small buttons or switches placed inconspicuously in reach of a worker’s hands or feet, so that the alarm can be triggered quickly without attracting attention from a potential robber. Instead of activating loud sirens and flashing lights, a signal is sent to a local police station. This isn’t like a fire alarm that will alert everyone inside the building to evacuate – the goal here is to only notify outsiders, and fast.

Once activated, the silent alarm stays on until police respond. They will call to ask if everything is OK, all the time assuming that something is wrong. Since robbers might be holding up employees, they might not be able to respond truthfully over the phone. So police will always respond, even when someone accidentally triggers the silent alarm and later denies any trouble.

Recently, taxis have adopted similar technology. The next time you see a taxi drive down the street, look carefully at the light on top. There will usually be a main light reading “in service” or “on call” that turns on depending on whether the driver is on duty. On the sides of the main light, there is sometimes a “call 911” indicator. The driver can activate this light with a hidden button or switch if they feel threatened or are being robbed. While it can deter robbery, this system is not as effective as the bank systems, since a potential robber could look at reflections in nearby windows to see whether the security light is on. Also, the driver relies on bystanders or other motorists to call the police instead of having a signal sent directly to the local PD.

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