Intimacy (Bloc Party album)
|Studio album by Bloc Party|
|Released||21 August 2008|
|Recorded||February – June 2008 at The Garage, Kent; The Pool, Miloco, London; Olympic Studios, London|
|Genre||Indie rock, alternative dance, Alternative Rock, Post-Punk Revival|
|Producer||Paul Epworth, Jacknife Lee|
|Bloc Party chronology|
|Singles from Intimacy|
Original digital download
Intimacy is the third studio album by British indie rock band Bloc Party. It was recorded in two weeks at several locations in London and Kent during 2008 and was produced by Paul Epworth and Jacknife Lee. Inspired by the release options available in the Internet age, the band members made the album available for purchase on their website as a digital download on 21 August 2008. Minimal promotion was undertaken in the UK. The record was released in compact disc form on 24 October 2008, with Wichita Recordings as the primary label. It peaked at number 8 on the UK Albums Chart and entered the Billboard 200 in the United States at number 18.
Bloc Party wanted to create an album that further distanced the band from the traditional rock set-up by incorporating more electronic elements and unconventional musical arrangements. As the record's title suggests, its tracks are about personal relationships and are loosely based on one of frontman Kele Okereke's breakups in 2007. Three songs were released as singles: "Mercury", "Talons", and "One Month Off"; the first two tracks entered the UK Top 40. Intimacy was generally well received by critics. Reviewers often focused on its rush-release and central theme, and considered them either bold steps or poor choices.
Origins and recording
Bloc Party's second album A Weekend in the City, released in 2007, allowed the quartet to evolve sonically by including more electronically tampered soundscapes, but the band members were not entirely comfortable with more daring musical arrangements when making the record. According to multi-instrumentalist Gordon Moakes, the impromptu November 2007 single "Flux" "opened a door to the fact that we could go in any direction" in future works. After the NME Big Gig in February 2008, the band members took a month off from touring and did not interact with each other during that period. Moakes felt that there were no rules when the band re-assembled for studio work. Chief lyricist Okereke completed most of the songwriting before the recording process.
In mid-2008, Bloc Party attended secret sessions at studios in the south-east of England. The band aimed to use a similar process to the creation of "Flux", which was crafted in a week. Paul Epworth and Jacknife Lee—from Bloc Party's previous albums, Silent Alarm and A Weekend in the City, respectively—returned to the production staff for Intimacy, because the band members felt that they had "unfinished business" with both. Okereke has stated that having two producers allowed for musical experimentation. Epworth focused on capturing the dynamic of a live band by working on fully developed songs and emphasising the rhythm section in the mix. Lee aided the band members' evolution towards a more electronic style by creating tracks with them. Each producer worked on five of the record's original ten tracks.
According to Okereke, Bloc Party wanted to make something as stylised as R&B or electronica, combining the rawness of Silent Alarm and the recording experience gained from A Weekend in the City. The frontman drew inspiration from Siouxsie and the Banshees' 1988 song "Peek-a-Boo" and aimed to create "rock interpretations of dance". The band worked by initially performing sound checks with only guitar chords, keyboard notes, and drum beats. Discussing the interplay between rhythm guitarist Okereke and lead guitarist Russell Lissack, Epworth has stated that "Kele will do one thing that creates a great deal of impact, whereas Russell's very good at subtle embellishments and leading the melodic side of things outside of the vocal". The band members decided to record the first ten tracks crafted after judging first ideas to often be the best. They "thrived" under the pressure of timed sessions, which lasted only two weeks.
Moakes has indicated that there was no worry about whether a song could be recreated live in concert in the same way as it would appear on record. A brass section and a chamber choir were hired as additional musicians. Drum machines and distorted guitars were used more extensively than in Bloc Party's previous works to create a sense of manipulation to the basic rock palette. Drummer Matt Tong was initially skeptical of moulding songs with programmed drums, as opposed to using his physical output, but agreed to the idea when the band recorded some of the tracks in their entirety. On some songs, the guitars were disregarded and the band focused solely on the beat. Okereke's voice was often used as an instrument by being looped, vocoded, or run through effects pedals.
Promotion and release
After the studio sessions, Bloc Party embarked on a tour of North American and European summer festivals. One of the recorded tracks, "Mercury", was released as a single on 11 August 2008 and peaked at number 16 on the UK Singles Chart. At the time, the band confirmed the existence of further material, but noted that a record release date was scheduled for the end of 2008 at the earliest. Bloc Party unexpectedly announced the completion of Intimacy on 18 August 2008 via a webcast and confirmed a release within 60 hours. The band members wanted to revive the importance of a new album's release in an era in which the excitement has dissipated because of extensive Internet coverage. They were inspired by Radiohead's marketing of In Rainbows in 2007, but did not consider a "free" sale option. Little press was undertaken in the UK to promote the record because of Okereke's reluctance to discuss personal aspects of his life.
Intimacy was made available for download on Bloc Party's website on 21 August 2008. Ten MP3 tracks were sold with a plain black JPEG cover for £5, and a £10 option for the online songs and the future expanded CD was also available. The album title was picked as a "double bluff" with regard to people's expectations; Okereke has explained, "You'd think of wet balladeering. You don't think it's gonna be ugly or harsh. But that's what relationships are really like. It's not just about good times." The release was called "rushed" by publications such as Billboard and The Independent. Tong disagreed with the label and stated that Bloc Party wanted to make a statement that was surprising to anyone interested in their work.
The band showcased tracks from Intimacy at Reading Festival at the end of August 2008 and embarked on a North American tour during September. UK appearances on the MTV2 Gonzo Tour and the release of the second single, "Talons", preceded the physical release of the album in October, which entered the UK Albums Chart at number eight. In the U.S, the record sold 24,000 copies during the first week of release and debuted at number 18 on the Billboard 200. Comprehensive sales figures have not been published because the digital download data has not been publicly reported by Bloc Party. The chosen cover art is a stylised shot of a couple kissing, taken by freelance photographer Perry Curties. It was ranked at number 23 on Gigwise's list of The Best Album Covers Of 2008, in which the publication called it "intimate and rather ambiguous".
The lyrics of Intimacy were inspired by a relationship breakup Okereke went through at the end of 2007. The lyricist told Rolling Stone, "I wouldn't want anyone to think it's the clichéd break-up record but I haven't written about true, personal experiences all that much in the past." The move to more intimate subject matter was "semi-conscious" because the band members did not want to focus on socio-political issues as they had in their previous works. Three tracks allude to Greek mythology: "Ares" draws its name from the god of war, "Trojan Horse" is named after the Trojan War military ruse, and "Zephyrus" draws its name from the god of the west wind. The narrative in the songs occurs between two people and focuses on the relations between lovers, friends, and enemies; Okereke indicated that "it's about moments of shared vulnerability". "Better Than Heaven" references the Garden of Eden and Corinthians (15:22), because the lyricist wanted to explore the themes of sex and death, especially in a biblical context.
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"Biko" means "Please" (or more accurately "I implore you") in Igbo—a language spoken in Nigeria, the homeland of Okereke's parents—and is used "when you're beseeching someone to do something". Okereke denied that it is about the murdered South African anti-apartheid protester Steve Biko. The lyrics of "One Month Off" reference feelings of anger and are about being in love with someone younger and unfaithful, while "Zephyrus" concerns an apology following neglect. The lyrics in the chorus of "Ion Square", the last track on the original download release, are based on E. E. Cummings' poem "I Carry Your Heart with Me". Okereke considers the song a personal favourite because it evokes the initial exciting stages of a new relationship when everything is going right.
Okereke has discussed a natural progression in Bloc Party's compositional style to a more explorative, electronic direction. For the opening track on Intimacy, "Ares", the frontman was inspired to rap his lyrics after listening to the old school hip hop of Afrika Bambataa. According to Heather Phares of Allmusic, the song includes siren-like guitar chords and loud, complex drumming in the vein of dance acts The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers. "Mercury" continues the complex drumming theme by incorporating layered percussion and contains a vocally manipulated chorus. The track is an attempt at drum and bass and features brass dissonance, effects Okereke has called "harsh, glacial, layered and energetic". "Zephyrus" begins with a solitary vocal line accompanied only by a drum machine pattern, while the Exmoor Singers provide background vocals in the rest of the composition. "Signs" is the only song that does not include guitars; instead, it is made up of a synthesiser pulse and multitracked samples of glockenspiel and mbira resembling the work of minimalist composer Steve Reich.
Okereke has conceded that Intimacy covers Bloc Party's typical indie rock elements, but noted that the guitars have an artificial and manipulated sound, "almost like all the humanity has been bleached out". "Halo" has a fast tempo coupled with a guitar melody that uses only four chords, while "Trojan Horse" features syncopated guitars and distortion. "Talons" also incorporates distortion from both lead and rhythm guitars, while the final single "One Month Off" consists of tribal rhythms and sixteenth note guitar riffs. "Biko" has a slower tempo and includes guitar arpeggi throughout, while "Ion Square" incorporates guitar overdubbing and the use of hi-hat patterns throughout. According to Nick Southall of Drowned in Sound, "Better Than Heaven" encapsulates what Bloc Party had been trying to achieve in their previous works, "namely aligning all their different directional desires: to swoon, to rock, and to experiment all at once". The track features broken beats and layered vocals.
|Drowned in Sound||7/10|
|The New York Times||(favorable)|
Media response to Intimacy was generally favourable; aggregating website Metacritic reports a normalised rating of 69% based on 27 critical reviews. Steven Robertshaw of Alternative Press described the album as arguably Bloc Party's finest career moment and noted that it offers "sweat and circuitry, savagery and submission, and a captivating energy that's severely lacking in many music scenes on the planet". Kyle Anderson of Rolling Stone claimed that by "replacing Bloc Party's distant cool with vivid honesty, Okereke makes Intimacy a confident new peak for his band", while PopMatters' Ross Langager explained that the record "might not actually be all that intimate, but it is a thing of rough, recycled beauty". Adam Mazmanian of The Washington Times commented that the album's final mix showed that producers Epworth and Lee preserved the essence of Bloc Party's signature sound—"minor key rock thrumming with rhythmic intensity"—while taking the band in new musical directions. Dave Simpson of The Guardian concluded that it would please old and new fans alike by being "brave, individual and heartfelt".
Pitchfork Media's Ian Cohen was less receptive and asserted that the record seems like a document of a band disconnected from its musical strengths. Josh Modell of Spin felt that Intimacy sometimes gets "sonically or lyrically precarious", while John Robinson of Uncut commented that "there's an air of slightly hedged bets". Drowned in Sound's Nick Southall claimed that the record is not quite the radical statement Bloc Party set out to achieve, but concluded that it is "definitely a little bit of invigorating redemption at a time when doubts were beginning to cloud what was, initially, a flawless reputation". In its year-end music review for 2008, Under the Radar stated about the band members, "They are so solid and so confident that it seems inevitable that they will get many chances to slowly drift into more daring lands. But without more risk, they may be destined to make albums like Intimacy – accomplished and intriguing, but not life changing, not classic." The record figured in several publications' end-of-year best album lists for 2008—notably, at number 14 by Gigwise, at number 36 by Drowned in Sound, and at number 49 by NME.
All songs written and composed by Bloc Party.
|7.||"One Month Off"||3:39|
|10.||"Better Than Heaven"||4:22|
|Deluxe Edition Bonus Tracks|
|12.||"Letter to My Son"||4:26|
|13.||"Your Visits Are Getting Shorter"||4:21|
|North American Bonus Tracks|
|12.||"Letter to My Son"||4:26|
|13.||"Your Visits Are Getting Shorter"||4:21|
|15.||"Idea For a Story"||5:04|
|16.||"Mercury (CSS Remix)"||4:07|
|17.||"Talons (XXXChange Remix)"||6:30|
|iTunes Bonus Tracks|
|12.||"Letter to My Son"||4:26|
|13.||"Your Visits Are Getting Shorter"||4:21|
- The download-only release in August 2008 did not include "Talons".
- The iTunes version of the October release included an extra Bloc Party EP, Live from London, which contains six songs from Intimacy performed live.
- The deluxe edition includes access to an online exclusive film, Live and Intimate, which contains footage of Bloc Party performing several Intimacy tracks plus "Banquet" live at The Pool, Miloco Studios.
- In 2009, the deluxe edition of Intimacy was remixed as Intimacy Remixed by artists including Mogwai, Armand Van Helden, and No Age.
- Some 2009 retailer versions include the August 2009 stand-alone single "One More Chance" in the tracklist.
- A standard black LP copy in a gatefold sleeve was released in October 2008 with the normal track listing, but with an original mix of "Mercury" instead of the CD version. The North American edition also included a code for the free online download of the tracks in MP3 format.
- A limited edition picture disc vinyl version was additionally released in the UK; it had the album cover printed on Side A and the track listing printed on Side B.
The people involved in the making of Intimacy are the following:
|World||21 August 2008||Wichita Recordings||Digital download||—|
|Europe||24 October 2008||Universal Records||Deluxe CD||3629185|
|United Kingdom and Ireland||27 October 2008||CD, deluxe CD, digital download, LP|
|North America||28 October 2008||Atlantic Records||CD, LP||512336|
|Deluxe CD, digital download||512335|
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- Intimacy lyrics at Bloc Party official site
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- Live and Intimate in photos at The Guardian