Over four years have passed since Kele Okereke last released a solo record (2010’s The Boxer). Since then, he’s dropped a handful of EPs, including two out-and-out house short-lengths, collaborated with a host of artists, entered the world of professional DJing proper and released another Bloc Party record (he’s also recently confirmed that the band are “preparing the fifth Bloc Party record”). He’s undoubtedly evolved considerably as an artist.
For his second long-form solo jaunt, titled Trick, Kele's ventured far from The Boxer. The latter still had a tendency to linger in the world of rock: guitars were prevalent, earworms Silent Alarm-angular and pulses taut. “Tenderoni” was a walloping salvo of spiky aggro, “Walk Tall” a grinding psych-rock number set to synths; “Unholy Thoughts” may as well have been an Intimacy demo.
Trick is wholly removed from Kele's other life in Bloc Party, and quite deliberately too. It began life as a counterpoint to the abrasive rock of Four, as a kind of respite from harsh axes. It's an exceedingly fluid LP, softly slipping from song to song, almost seamlessly at points; it's a dance album for sure – taking inspiration from '90s garage, modern house and Kele's time as a DJ – but only on rare occasions is it built for the dancefloor. Trick nurtures an afterparty-for-two vibe. It's a “Let's Get It On” for drunk, slippery, sobering self-conscious fucking, and for post-coital anxiety, tender heartache and the 5am bad-trip porcelain firing-range embrace.
There's a sensuality to it as well. Kele, far from jolting into the acidity of grime as he was want to do on The Boxer, coos melodies. They slowly unfold over numerous bars and across the twinkling rhythmic constellations that pulse underfoot. Beats and bass are still vital, but it's rare that a track on Trick is centred around speed, volume or an abundance of confidence. In fact, it's a remarkably revealing, naked record, perhaps best exemplified by soft anthem “Stay The Night”. Concerned primarily with love, lust and chance encounters, Kele, providing the antithesis to Four's 'fighter' attitude, is enamoured, sensitive and reflective.
Anxious ambient-house ditty “Doubt” skitters around with synth pistons and an agonised chorus. “Year Zero”, a falsetto-laden number, is an R&B ballad sodden with emotion. Record highlight, “Closer”, boasts sparse 3am guitars and tinny 808s, and you'd be forgiven for hearing comparisons to The XX. The chorus, sung by an unnamed collaborator (perhaps Yasmin Shahmir, who features on “First Impressions”), is thoroughly engrossing: “In your absence I unravel/In you absence I am gone/so go easy on this heart/time to love or fall apart/In your absence I unravel/I need you closer.”
Once more, Kele's detractions from formulas and prescribed routes will test the affections of Bloc Party stalwarts. But, like the band, Kele prides himself on change. Evolution is key, and moving forward is essential. Kele's Trick is an often delicate record, delivered via genres not known for their subtlety, and it's fascinating to unwrap the layers of deep intimacy, personal revelation and sensitivity that's reared its head so rarely in Kele's career. He's had a reputation for being guarded in the past, but on Trick, we see him wear his heart on his sleeve.