2005’s Silent Alarm introduced the indie world to a band working with exceptional, furious synchronicity. Fast and beautiful, Bloc Party’s debut struck with a balance unmatched by its contemporaries. The rhythms are intense and highly skilled while Kele Okereke’s raw, dynamic vocals make the tracks unpredictable. Aggression and melody sidle alongside each other. Bloc Party landed on a winning formula unreplicable by their peers and nonrenewable in their own later music. Silent Alarm plays on the edge, dallying with dissonance. But perhaps the exact qualities that made Silent Alarm, and parts of sophomore record A Weekend In The City, so special are what have since made Kele and Bloc Party’s efforts go awry. Pushing boundaries comes with rich rewards and steep jeopardy. New album The Flames pt. 2 finds Kele at his rawest again, with the majority of the record built around the sounds of one electric guitar, but its results suggest that rawness needs to be harnessed to get the best out of it
The Flames pt. 2 follows 2021’s The Waves pt. 1, to which it provides a companion piece. The albums are like two contrasting, split versions of identity. The Waves pt. 1 captures what it is to feel submerged, caught under the waves clambering for a sense of agency. The Flames pt. 2 finds that agency in fire. “We’ll find out if you float or burn”, Kele says on Her Darkest Hour. Accordingly, The Flames pt. 2 is more kinetic than its predecessor but it often stutters with this new found energy, a fire that struggles to truly catch. The album is stocked with off-kilter instrumentals that don’t fully come together. Where Silent Alarm’s dissonant moments excited with their promise of subsequent beauty, The Flames pt. 2 gets stuck in strange, sometimes ugly, places that are not redeemed. And He Never Was The Same has an intriguing, ominous electric guitar loop that becomes maddening in its rigid repetition, while No Risk, No Reward is particularly redundant, lacking in texture and development.
Kerosene, however, realises the potential The Flames pt. 2’s other songs only offer glimpses of. The production is more intricate and the song has the sort of nuanced progression missed severely elsewhere. Kele’s voice modulates in approach, in moments almost dealt in a spoken word style that lead into tender, earnest deliveries. It’s a slow burner that creeps up on you; Kele experimenting in a way that sounds organic and fruitful. Someone To Make Me Laugh includes the best, most endearing chorus on The Flames pt. 2 but is let down by its verses and slightly awkward rhythms.
The Waves pt. 1 emerged from Kele’s lockdown experience, with a strong sense of discovery in isolation as the former Bloc Party frontman reimagined his sound at a slowed pace awash with atmosphere. It was Kele’s most filtered solo record to date and arguably also his best. The Flames pt. 2 lurches in another direction to its predecessor but sounds less inspired in doing so.