When I decided to end my intense relationship with Bloc Party, it was all very amicable. There was no crushing moment when they broke my heart, no unforgivable error that I just couldn’t look past, no realisation that I’d been part of an unhealthy relationship that was doomed from the start. We simply grew apart. After three albums I adored and eight or nine gigs, there was a break in our contact and when they came back on the scene we didn’t suit each other anymore. My tastes had changed. They had also decided that they needed a different direction and I reluctantly accepted that, wishing them well for the future but wanting no part of it. I didn’t feel the need to burn the memories they’d left me with, though, and even now I look upon them very fondly.
When Kele went solo, it was further evidence that I’d made the right decision. There was nothing wrong with what he was creating, but it had moved even further from the things that I had loved about him. There was one night, at a festival, when he brought back some of the old classics and I fell briefly in love again. But that passed, and his career became irrelevant to me.
Then, like a random text from an ex (I promise I’ll give up on this analogy soon), Pitchfork reviewed The Waves Part 1 and tempted me back in with promises of a new eccentric sound. I couldn’t resist taking a peak at how Kele had changed.
I’m glad I did. If it wasn’t for his distinctive voice, you might not identify this album as being by the man who once let rip as the frontman of Bloc Party. It is extremely low key at times, while also managing to be totally oddball and otherworldly in ways that his music has never been before. Starting with the mostly instrumental ‘Message From The Spirit World’, the album is eccentric from the start. And the instrumental breaks throughout, the almost spooky ‘Dungeness’, the hypnotic ‘The Patriots’, and the dramatic ‘The Heart Of The Wave’, only add to this atmosphere. I often struggle with instrumental tracks because I feel like they take up unnecessary space but here they are a major part of what makes everything feel so complete and interesting.
‘Intention’ treads the ground between the instrumental songs and those with vocals. Another hypnotic, repetitive guitar line underpins this song – but over the top, we have a woman leading a mindfulness exercise, encouraging us to notice the feelings in our body and the ‘things that are getting in the way of positive flow.’ This song does add to the eccentric feel of the album, but to me it also does something much more important. The foreboding guitar line totally obstructs any connection with the words and, with that, it feels as if Kele is making a point about how powerless self-care has felt in the last year, as all of us have had to deal with our own realities in the middle of a global crisis.
That feels like what this album does so well. It represents not only what Kele was doing during lockdown, but also the situation that so many of us found ourselves in; looking inwards at a time when the support of our communities was less available than ever. It’s fascinating to me that ‘Intention’ is followed by a cover of ‘Smalltown Boy’ by Bronski Beat. Kele’s version loses all of the dancefloor elements and makes it very apparent what this song really is – a story about a harassed and bullied young man who finds that his only option is escape. I can’t help but feel that this cover, and the album as whole, is an expression of Kele looking back before he can move forward.
But as well as searching for all the hidden meanings in the songs and the structure of this album, I have to also say that is simply the most enjoyable music that Kele has released since Bloc Party’s Intimacy in 2008. ‘They Didn’t See It Coming’ is a spoken word tale about walking the streets following a BLM protest, but told in a jaunty and playful way which balances the optimism and fear of the events that had taken place. ‘How To Beat The Lie Detector’ sounds joyful in its tone, even while it talks about being sent to jail and the ruin of a relationship. ‘Nineveh’ is a mournful but beautiful breakup song with some stunning lyrical couplets, none more so than the bridge of ‘He said boys like me just don’t grow on trees/But lately I’ve been thinking all about the evergreens.’ And bonus track ‘Cradle You’ closes everything with a simple and gorgeous message that sums up the intent of the album, looking at how to move past the obstacles that fall at our feet.
So to return to my terrible analogy for a moment, I am extremely happy to see that my old love has found some of his magic again. It’s rare to see someone come out with something so new and interesting at this stage of their career. Lockdown has been an absolute nightmare in pretty much every imaginable way, but for giving Kele the take the chance to sit down and write this intriguing and beguiling album, I’m kind of grateful to it. One of the best lockdown projects I’ve heard.
Words by Fran Slater