More than a few eyebrows were raised last year when Bloc Party lead singer Kele Okereke released a two-track EP of functional dance music, Heartbreaker, on London club-house institution Crosstown Rebels. On the surface level Okereke’s stepping out as a dance producer was curious; it’s not every day one of the more visible faces of 2000s UK indie steps behind the boards and starts churning out honest-to-God dance music on an honest-to-God dance label. But when it comes to explaining their existence alone, Heartbreaker and this year’s Crosstown-released Candy Flip EP make more sense when situated in what Okereke’s been up to over the last six years. Bloc Party’s 2008 effort, Intimacy, flirted with dancey textures to varied effect; two years later, Okereke stepped out on his own with proper solo debut The Boxer, a grab-baggy collection of aggressive dance-rock that, at points, presaged the stomping fare that Skrillex and other American dubstep auteurs would popularize a few years later.
The Boxer wasn’t a very good album, but it was a hell of a lot better than Bloc Party’s defeated-sounding fourth record, the 2012 effort Four. A brittle, dry rock record that sounded as if the guys who made the youthful, comparatively bright Silent Alarm seven years previous were battling a wicked hangover, Four made the breakup rumors that surrounded Bloc Party at the time sound appealing. It also suggested that, at least for the time being, Okereke had fallen out of love with rock music, an assumption bolstered by his second solo album, Trick. The record represents an even more headlong dive into dance music than The Boxer, with a decidedly different tone: Okereke’s swapped aggression for subtlety, embracing the type of lush, seedy big-room house music that, fittingly, Crosstown Rebels has made its name on.
Trick is, by far, the most listenable and, at points, enjoyable music Okereke’s made this decade. Rock musicians dipping their toes into electronic waters isn’t new, but rarely do they make the transition sound effortless, and even more rare is the musician who can capably turn out stuff that sounds like it’s been blessed by the scene’s fixtures. That Okereke can claim success on both levels is, in itself, a small victory; compositionally, the ten tunes are sound and smooth, and if they were played for a listener under the false guise that Okereke simply contributed vocals to an established producer’s tracks, that listener would be none the wiser.
That said, the mode of dance music Okereke is working in on Trick is one frequently criticized by both dance aesthetes and genre newcomers as sounding faceless, and so it follows that Trick is nice with atmosphere, but largely a non-entity when it comes to hooks. The few memorable hooks it has, too, are unfortunately the album’s weaker points: “Year Zero”’s insistent, whining chorus isn’t made better by Okereke’s somewhat cringe-worthy lyrics. Okereke’s vocals have long possessed a stridency that worked well in the context of Bloc Party’s spiky, stylish post-post-punk, and when he breaks into the upper register in more subdued environs like the soft clicking thump of “My Hotel Room”, the effect is grating. There are moments of vocal subtlety as well, though, that fare much better: dusky closer “Stay the Night” radiates sensuality, Okereke’s upper register taking on a tone that’s a few shades darker to match his surroundings.
Trick is a curious solo album because Okereke is more than content to take the backseat on his own tracks. Yasmin Shahmir, who’s previously collaborated with post-Disclosure UK house-pop duo Gorgon City, laces the percolating opener “First Impressions” gracefully, while vocalist Jodie Scantlebury takes the lead on the wistful, winding “Closer”, one of a few highlights and a tune possessing a chorus that smacks of something Todd Terry might have come up with in the early 90s. These inspired collaborations, along with more textural moments like the snappy diva shouts embedded in “Silver and Gold”, suggest that Okereke’s a capable, considerate producer that, next time around, might do even better with more time behind the boards and less in front of a microphone.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1vxUJ4q