Alex Hoban gets an early preview of Kele Okereke’s solo debut – and discovers that Bloc Party fans are in for a shock
Title: ‘The Boxer’
Released: June 21
Recorded: November 2009 – February 2010 in XXXchange’s Brooklyn bedroom.
Kele’s opener serves as a rallying cry preparing you for the truly unexpected album you’re about to hear, with a tribal dubstep beat that is more benga than Bloc Party. “I don’t know what you’ve heard/I’m getting taller” he sings as the ever-increasing presence of a violent synth-saw comes closer. It is the dual moment of Kele growing, Godzilla-like, into a new fiery animal, while the production takes a chainsaw to our indie expectations.
On The Lam
Out of nowhere the second track on the album, produced by Spankrock’s XXXchange, explodes in a shower of unadulterated 2-step, old skool breaks and a Smurfs-like vocal track that sees Kele’s voice electronically pitch-shifted. It’s a dramatic leap and completely detached from his indie days of yore.
Kele’s first single opens with a gliding synth ushering in his familiar lyrical style. “Every time we kiss it seems like you’re holding back/Don’t be so quick to pull away” he croons, before the vocal track sinks away into dense dance production. This is Kele’s bold attempt at a BodyRockers-eque, mainstream club banger.
The Other Side
Guitar makes its first appearance in the form of a passive, avant-garde fragment of echoing fretwork, as a degrees-of-separation dubstep-inspired beat is backflipped by the interjecting sample stab of a burly man shouting “HUH!”. The tune ends with a conga breakdown which reveals a subtle, emotive melody.
Everything You Wanted
This possible second single begins with childlike playroom piano and is the first moment of retrospection on the mostly forward-looking album. The pace and tenderness of Kele’s vocal delivery move it closer to Bloc Party’s earlier, tentative forays into electro.
Perhaps the most surprising moment on the album, this duet with vocalist Jodie Scantlebury, suggests Kele could also try his hand at a lo-fi electro record. “I’m learning to be laid back about things” he opines with confidence. Kele reckons Gary Numan inspired much
of this record – here this influence is most traceable.
It’s not until track seven we get any concession to Bloc Party fans, as the instantly familiar opening guitar salvo echoes the angular riff of ‘Hunting For Witches’. An almost Joy Division-like bassline runs on the spot as Kele proclaims “The mind is a powerful thing!”.
The final trilogy of songs takes another turn for the weird. Here, Kele takes on the roll of disco preacher, as a lullaby twinkle underscores his plea, “Brothers and sisters, can’t you see you are stronger than you think?”, clearing the table for the heaviest drop of the record, which floods the speakers with old skool breaks.
All The Things I Could Never Say
The spirit of Aphex Twin and Warp lingers, as a synthetic organ organises a scattered, frenetic patter-beat. It’s a paranoid, claustrophobic comedown track that’s brought out of its K-hole by a crescendo of layered female vocals.
An unexpectedly poignant closer, as chords merge with a warm bubble-synth melody that sounds like a hopeful, uplifting exhale. As the beat shifts to an R&B pattern, the choral stabs become hallucinatory. This most surprising record ends on an emotive note.