Hymns, the fifth album by the Brits of Bloc Party, represents a musical shift for the one-time buzz band. Kele Okereke's stirring yawp remains one of the few threads between then and now, but Bloc Party has traded the wiry textures and bouncing-ball drums of its earliest singles for vaporous guitar fuzz and much mellower beats.
The title of Hymns is somewhat literal; in a January interview with Out, Okereke noted that the sparse house nod of "Only He Can Heal Me" has structural roots in the Israeli folk song "Shalom Chaverim." He also cited the husband-and-wife gospel duo The Consolers—specifically their "emotional, back-of-the-throat delivery"—as an influence. Secular pleasures lurk, too: "I used to find my answers in the gospel of St. John/ But now I find them at the bottom of a shot glass," he grouses during "The Good News," which melds moody verses with a dirt-smudged slide guitar.
Shifting musical gears is a risky proposition for any band in this fast-paced era, particularly for acts once pegged as next-big-thing types. Given the current abundance of metadata tags, can you truly escape your past without seeming to try too hard to avoid irrelevancy? To wit, "Banquet," the group's pulsing decade-old hit, is probably more prominent even now than any of the tracks on Hymns. It provides the soundtrack for a car commercial that pops up during sports telecasts and the occasional cable drama. But Hymns suggests a hunger to keep going and keep questioning what Bloc Party is. Reaching the top of the mountain might be the stuff of legend, but the post-summit journey has way more potential for spurring growth and change. Good on Bloc Party for taking the chance. —Maura Johnston