By KRUA Music Manager Oli P
“Ratchet” as an adjective, and a somewhat pejorative one at that, is a curious word: parents don’t tend to understand what it means, and the generation of kids who have this slang word at their disposal can’t always easily define it for mom and pop. But often times “ratchet” is simply synonymous with “bad.” Or overly wild. Or just gross. Generally “ratchet” is not a word one would want to have on their grave stone. Ratchet, however, may be the word that does, in fact, stick to Bloc Party’s reputation and potential grave stone as it reportedly goes into an “indefinite hiatus.”
Bloc Party’s new EP The Nextwave Sessions released on Frenchkiss Records features five wildly sporadic, sometimes questionable tracks, the first of which is actually called “Ratchet.” As a song title, not only is “Ratchet” jaw-droppingly laughable, but it also begs the question of “what were they thinking?” With a chorus hook of We got ratchet/we go/you better watch yourself/we go/go ratchet/we go/you better watch frontman Kele Okereke was likely thinking about razzing up crowds at live shows. But the result of the song with a sophomoric slew of lyrics about “smoking on that home roll” and “keeping it on the poise” and the bizarre combination of early Arctic Monkeys-esque blue-note Brit-punk and an attempt at what appears to be non-electronic dubstep definitely lives up to the connotation that “ratchet” is not a good direction for any band to take. Even parents who’ve never understood the definition of this type of slang could easily identify this sound as a sonic bust. No kids required to explain that one.
The second track on The Nextwave Sessions is also a disappointment in comparison to their previous work. “Obscene” is an RnB slow jam comprised entirely of pulsating synths and trappy hi-hats that don’t abate during the whole song. This tracks is reminiscent of Okereke’s solo work that focuses largely on synthetic production and dance tracks which take a completely different direction than Bloc Party’s work on Silent Alarm, Intimacy, and Four. “Obscene,” unlike “Ratchet” does not live up to its name, but it is nonetheless an outlier for the band’s characteristically power-punk, high energy style of rock. In fact, it’s so slow and tame that it could conceivably have been a beat for rapper Drake’s style of style of ultra slow, singsong verses. “Obscene” seems to focus too much on soulful vocal performance, which is not conducive to Okereke’s voice. His edgy, punchy voice and his ability to yelp musically into a microphone was precisely what made Silent Alarm so genuine. Here, he seems to have taken a new and less successful approach to vocal styling.
“Montreal” and “French Exit” follow on the album. These two tracks sound like old Bloc Party – high strung, high energy, high falsettos when Okereke really gets into it. “French Exit” displays some movement across the course of the song, which is not shared in “Montreal” or in the album’s closing track “Children of the Future.” The closer sounds like a rip-off of the iconic Silversun Pickups guitar riff in “Lazy Eye” blended with the nonchalant sound of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Cherub Rock,” except that Cherub Rock actually develops into a powerful song while “Children of the Future” remains stagnant and monochromatic throughout its entirety.
While four of the five tracks on The Nextwave Sessions are not necessarily bad (“Ratchet” being excluded from that group of decent songs), they are certainly not “next wave” material. “Low tide” material might be a better description, as it seems that Bloc Party has gotten stranded on this record, without much idea of what to do next. The songs don’t jive well in relation to one another, resulting in an EP that feels half-hearted. Hopefully a hiatus will do the band some good. Going out with a ratchet is not a fate any band should suffer.