You’re probably most familiar with Kele Okereke as the frontman for the much-celebrated high-energy art-punk quartet Bloc Party with their 2005 debut Silent Alarm cementing them as one of the coolest bands on the planet for much of the ensuing decade. Yet whenever they take a hiatus (usually musician code for “we’ve-grown-a-bit-sick-of-each-other”), Okereke seemingly ascribes to the adage “no rest for the wicked” with his first solo outing The Boxer falling dead in the middle of their first sojourn and his latest Trick conspicuously dropping a month after the announcement of Bloc Party’s return to the studio.
The classic frontman-goes-solo trope of scraping together a collection of tracks that may not have cut the mustard in their more-famous groups is thankfully absent on Trick. There’s nary a wiry telecaster or frantically played live drum ‘n’ bass groove to be found here – and that’s essentially a good thing. Where 2010’s The Boxer showcased Okereke’s eclecticism and range, Trick is a much more cohesive affair informed by years of DJ-ing at clubs around the world with the focus shifted more towards the atmospherics and spaciousness underneath that impeccably soulful voice of his.
The ambient vinyl crackle that signals the beginning of aptly named opener First Impressions gives way to a swelling down-tempo house beat reminiscent of the late-‘90s UK club scene and with it, the sonic framework for much of the rest of the record is laid out. The vulnerability in Kele’s voice in the verses of current single Coasting has somewhat of a Thom Yorke vibe about it before first single Doubt counterbalances spacey, side-chained swells with a more familiar sounding vocal approach.
The dynamic, futurist breakbeats of Closer paint a perfect late-night picture of desperation and the airy nostalgia of Like We Used To does much the same. That’s probably the major pitfall of Trick as a whole. While the effort to create a set of cohesive, symbiotic tracks that fit together like a finely crafted after-hours DJ set is admirable and deftly executed, it winds up sounding a little one-dimensional throughout with no real standout tracks. But then again, that’s possibly Okereke’s precise intention and in that sense, it succeeds.
Humour Me plays like the soundtrack to a drunken night club-hopping that begins at 2am and Year Zero echoes that sentiment with some more stellar falsetto work. The glitchy Chicago-house beat on My Hotel Room underscores the exact narrative you’d expect from the title (“I don’t usually do this” but “I’m falling” and “My hotel room is not too far”) and penultimate track Silver And Gold falls somewhere between lighter-waving, new-romantic ‘80s pop and steely post-dubstep. Stay The Night wraps things up with a beautifully understated sentimentality and juxtaposes the electro perfection of the instrumentation with the most unguarded vocal on the record.
On the whole, Kele’s sophomore solo effort is a bit of a one-Trick-pony, but that’s kind of what’s great about it. Its cohesiveness is incredibly refreshing in a climate where a lot of electronic albums exist purely to show how many buttons and knobs a producer knows how to use and his voice is at the top of its game throughout. While Bloc Party fans are positively salivating at the news of the band’s imminent reunion, it’s comforting to know that when their frontman steps into solo-mode, it’s to do something completely different.