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Far Out First Impressions: A review of Kele Okereke's new album 'The Waves Pt. 1'

Kele - 'The Waves Pt. 1'
8.1

Today, Kele Okereke, the cutting and captivating frontman of Bloc Party, has released his fifth studio album The Waves Pt. 1. After having previously dropped album cuts ‘Smalltown Boy’, ‘Nineveh’, ‘From a Place of Love’, and ‘The Heart of the Wave’, the singer-songwriter has decided to feature one last single as the album officially hits the market: ‘The Way We Live Now’.

A much more muted effort than the sprawling indie-tronic of his other solo work, The Waves Pt. 1 finds Kele stripping away as much as he can until what’s laid out in front of us is the bare essence of an artist without any bells or whistles to distract our ears. Occasionally, that effort is beleaguered and admittedly not as fun as his more high energy material, but on the whole, the album reveals layers of emotional evolution and strength that are the telltale signs of a man who’s spent nearly two decades maturing before our eyes and ears.

“The initial plan was that the record was going to be solely instrumental,” Kele explains. “Slowly I started adding words and vocal melodies to the ideas and I could see songs starting to take shape but it was important to me that the music felt fluid, that it drifted in out like the bobbing of waves, that if you let yourself succumb to it maybe it could take you somewhere else, somewhere far away from here.”

There are lots of disparate inspirations that go into his most recent LP: lockdown, solitude, getting away from the city, interrogating your own hangups. Some of those elements are trademarks for Kele, but the single biggest driving force I hear on The Waves Pt. 1 is fatherhood. Kele, a parental figure now with a daughter, takes on a pervasive protective persona throughout the album, with common themes of finding safe places, providing support, and being an understanding human being. It’s certainly a different take on life than what we might have heard on Silent Alarm or even Trick and 2042. It’s less a full boar wrecking ball of an album and more a gentle waltz into a new phase of life.

That can seem pretty emotionally heavy, but Kele makes sure to bring in some light fun as well, like on the growling and glib ‘How to Beat the Lie Detector’. Never one to keep things too serious, Kele infuses a fair amount of playfulness and bounce into his songs, like the ominous distortion infused second half of ‘The Patriots’ that still feels exciting and never dour, or the wonderfully bright layered vocal lines ‘The One Who Held You Up’ that can lift you up even as it plunges you into some occasional detours of darkness.

Musically, I can understand why Kele is considering The Waves Pt. 1 a well-and-true “solo” album. The arrangements for most tracks are sparse, incredibly minimalist soundscapes populated with relatively few instruments or harmonies. Throughout my listen, I didn’t hear a single track with drums, and most bass lines come in the form of keyboard buzzes. The result is a fifty-minute journey directly into the inner sanctum of Kele’s mind, affording the kind of intimacy that only comes from an individual working directly outside any kind of collaborative setting. Sometimes artists can often get lost up their own asses without outside counsel or direction, but Kele has a keen ear for melody and arranging that puts him in unique company. The man can loop guitar lines, fill space with keyboard textures, and the result will sound like a full orchestra.

What became clear was that I still had the desire to create. Usually, when I make records it’s an ensemble affair, there are usually lots of other musicians and singers I work with, but as we were in lockdown I did not have that luxury of being able to work with other musicians,” Kele continues. “I knew I had to fill in the space of this record entirely by myself, which was daunting but also very liberating. This album is literally the sound of me.”

At its most deconstructive, like on the instrumentals ‘Dungeness’ and ‘The Heart of the Wave’, Kele positions himself at the crossroads of ambient drone and indie rock, exploring esoteric sonic worlds while never truly giving up the joys that come with plugging in an electric guitar. The Waves Pt. 1 is its own fully developed alternate universe, one that holds its own aesthetics, ideals, beliefs, problems, and solutions apart from whatever’s happening out here. It’s Kele’s world, and we’re all just listening to it.

That attention to detail is what makes The Waves Pt. 1 so engrossing. A vocal sample on ‘Intention’ asks “Now ask yourself: how does this thing get in the way of my day to day life?” Throughout the album, Kele is looking to minimise anything that could clutter up the new life he’s worked hard to establish, but that deconstructive spirit never feels recidivist or devolutionary. Instead, we get a portrait of a man searching for new meanings and new answers. A new, better Kele. The Waves Pt. 1 seems to indicate that he’s well on the path to finding it.

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