From the promising energy of Silent Alarm to the sputtering anxiety of last year’s Four, Bloc Party has repeatedly refused to settle for repetition despite steady commercial success, consistently tweaking their aesthetic while flirting with increasingly complex lyrics, much of them rooted in issues of race and sexuality. Yet as admirable as these attempts have been, and as nice as it would be for the band to finally find solid footing, they’ve never been able to fully blend their incipient curiosity for new sounds with their primary goal of crafting catchy pop-rock. This trend is continued on The Nextwave Sessions, a scattershot EP showcasing five different facets of the band’s sound, none of which feel especially solid or exciting.
Each of the EP’s tracks has its own relatively specific style, and each is rewarding in some small way, but as a whole The Nextwave Sessions feels more like a rehash of the band’s nagging problems than a sample of potential future directions. Contributing to the first two songs, producer Dan Carey edges the group further into the dance-pop realm with which they’ve always flirted, but despite some surface effects, like staggered drumbeats, synth washes, and skittering drum machines, neither track is daring enough to push beyond the group’s usual templates. Opener “Ratchet” is thorny and propulsive, while “Obscene” is slow and ponderous, drifting by in a haze of simpering bathos.
Beyond issues of innovation, this opening pair of songs remains beholden to the same conflict that’s always hampered Bloc Party’s output: The catchy songs feel lightweight and disposable, while the weightier ones grow overwrought and soppy. It’s a pattern that continues with “French Exit,” which plays as a throwback to the band’s earlier, more straightforward material; “Montreal,” with its woozy, echoing sprawl; and “Children of the Future,” a slow, cumbersome track that fringes on hokey inspirational territory. While the group’s commitment to minor experimentation remains heartening, it ends up seeming like another symptom of their continued inability to land on the right combination of energy and intellect. Eight years after their debut, this is still the sound of an adolescent band that, despite its persistence in tackling adult topics, hasn’t yet found a way of approaching them in an adult manner.