Alpha Games

Bloc Party

Alpha Games

Kele Okereke isn’t usually someone who looks backwards. “As soon as we finish a record and deliver it, that’s usually the point I stop listening to it as it becomes someone else’s,” Bloc Party’s singer/guitarist tells Apple Music. However, during 2018 and 2019, the band revisited their past as they played their debut album, 2005’s Silent Alarm, in full at live dates around the world. During sound checks, new music began to emerge—tracks that would eventually appear on their sixth studio album, Alpha Games. “The energy we were putting into the Silent Alarm songs, which were in our blood and our muscle memory, felt connected to these new songs on some level,” he says. Despite that genesis, Alpha Games is still a forward-looking record—not least because it’s the first to be truly made by this iteration of Bloc Party, with Okereke and fellow founding member Russell Lissack (guitar) joined by Justin Harris (bass) and Louise Bartle (drums). While the latter duo have been in post since 2015, previous album Hymns, made in 2016, was largely written by Okereke and Lissack, in the studio and directly into a computer. “We could manipulate anything any way that we felt like, and that can be quite eye-opening,” Okereke says. “But we knew this record needed to feel different, which it soon did, thanks to the spontaneous alchemy that came from four different personalities and perspectives coming together. The magical part of writing songs with other people is that you don’t know where you’re going to end up.” Where they’ve ended up is as captivating as it is diverse. Alpha Games takes in hulking riffs (“Traps”), undulating grooves (“Callum Is a Snake”), cinematic electronica (“Sex Magik”), and brooding post-rock (“The Girls Are Fighting”)—all tied together by unifying themes of conflict and anger, dishonesty and duplicity. “There’s something fascinating about menacing things going on beneath the surface,” says Okereke. Let him guide you through the record, track by track. “Day Drinker” “It was two separate ideas that I could see potential in but needed to be finessed. In the final production session before we recorded the album, it all slotted into place. Lyrically, it really encapsulates what I see the record as being about: this kind of struggle for dominance. And what better way to exhibit and explore that than in the relationship between siblings? It’s about two warring siblings, an older brother who’s jealous of his younger brother’s success. We were able to carry that idea through in the instrumental section towards the end. The way that Russell and I are following each other with our guitar lines was, to me, supposed to signify two brothers dueling.” “Traps” “Justin had an idea for a version of the bassline, which we heard something in and added more parts around it. As it took shape, we’d play it in sound checks, and whenever we did, all of our crew would stop and listen. We knew then that there was something arresting about it. It gave us an indication of where we should be going with the album.” “You Should Know the Truth” “I like it because the musical refrain is so sweet and childlike but the words are so dark. It feels like one of the darkest things that I’ve ever sung, insomuch as it’s about coming clean after years of living a lie and the harm that can produce. But I love that most people won’t really get that [meaning]—if they don’t listen to the words then it’ll just be a pretty song. I quite like that, because a lot of my favorite music, like the Pixies, has such rousing melodies and violent imagery, marrying the dark and the light.” “Callum Is a Snake” “Callum is a real person, for sure, but Callum is not his real name. I think the song is less about him than it is about putting someone on blast, knowing that you’ve been fucked over and not wanting someone to get away with it. It’s about a very calm and calculated bout of aggression towards someone, because you can see what they’re doing and they need to stop, otherwise there will be consequences.” “Rough Justice” “This was one of the songs in which I could see lots of different scenes, like vignettes, as if I was a narrator watching them come together. I didn’t have a clear vision about what it was about, but looking back now I can see. It brings to mind a passage from the Bret Easton Ellis novel Glamorama, in which we find out that all of these socialite party people are actually an underground terrorist cell. That always stuck with me—that sense of there being a public face and a private face.” “The Girls Are Fighting” “The conflict here is about two women coming to blows because someone has been selling them dreams and lying to them, in order to get something he wanted out of them. That’s a theme that recurs throughout the record. It was a fascinating thing for me to explore, because I’ve always found those moments when people drop their masks of politeness, and real passion or violence erupts, to be strangely attractive.” “Of Things Yet to Come” “I guess it’s the most tender of the songs on the record. We were conscious that we wanted Alpha Games to have no lags and for all the energy to be up, but I feel like this is the one song when the energy isn’t up. It’s important because although there isn’t such palpable aggression in it, there is a tremendous sense of regret at the way life has panned out—and looking back wistfully and recognizing that you could have been a better person to someone.” “Sex Magik” “This song is ultimately about a very short-lived relationship—actually ‘tryst’ is probably a better word—with someone, without being fully aware of what they’re entirely about. You then recognize that you’re being led down a path that you’re not really sure you should be going down. Both ‘Sex Magik’ and ‘Traps,’ to me, feel quite sexual, but from different perspectives. In ‘Traps,’ it’s quite predatory: The singer is looking at someone he wants to take advantage of. In ‘Sex Magik,’ though, it’s the opposite side of that experience—someone realizing that maybe they’re being taken advantage of.” “By Any Means Necessary” “To me, it’s about ruthless ambition and knowing that you’ll stop at nothing to achieve what it is you’re setting out for, even at the cost of your humanity. That song feels like an assassin, psyching themselves up before the hit.” “In Situ” “Although ‘In Situ’ was one of the earlier songs we wrote, we didn’t really develop it properly until the end of the process. I was left with a bit of freedom, lyrically, so wrote them on the fly. It’s about this sense of inertia—this sense that after the pandemic, a lot of people reconciled what was going on in their lives. It’s about feeling you’re in your habitat, your space, having this life that has a sense of routine. I was sleeping in the same bed, not on a tour bus, so I was feeling quite domesticated. I think there was part of me that was worried the moss would grow over me and I’d forget what I’d done for such a big part of my life.” “If We Get Caught” “It definitely has a whimsical edge to it, but there’s a sense of impending doom. Although it’s a beautiful sentiment, about this tender moment between two people, there is this sense that very soon the shit is going to hit the fan. ‘If We Get Caught’ is like a final goodbye—a moment of tenderness before heads start to roll.” “The Peace Offering” “There’s all this rage and angst and conflict within the songs prior, but in ‘The Peace Offering’ there’s a sense of cold detachment. What happens after the fires of rage burn out and you’re left numb and disconnected? This song is about that feeling of letting your hate go but not letting love come into its place. Sometimes you have to cauterize the wound and move on. It’s ultimately about not looking for forgiveness, realizing that you’re never going to agree and that maybe it’s better to just part.”

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