When you've spent almost a decade confined to a band environment, it makes sense to name your debut solo record The Boxer (Glass Note). Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke now envisions himself alone in the ring, possibly taking a beating, but also ready to dole one out, the dimming lights above the squared circle powered solely by his previous band's fading relevance.
It's been more than five years since Bloc Party dropped Silent Alarm, at the height of the new millennium's post-punk revival, joining an influx of UK bands like Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys poised to reclaim the indie-rock-and-roll throne from all that Strokesy racket emanating from New York. But most telling about Bloc Party's future was not that Silent Alarm charted in 18 countries (#3 in the UK, #7 on our Billboard Independent chart), eventually going on to sell a million units worldwide. It was that a full-blown, 13-track dance remix album followed its release just six months later.
ROCK REMIX: “With Bloc Party, we were a guitar-rock band, and that’s why people liked us. But the music I always found inspiring was in the clubs and heard on dance floors.”
Early, angular Bloc Party tracks like "Banquet" and "Helicopter" were — and still are — indie dance-party staples equipped with up-tempo punk ferocity and layered, hook-laden guitar lines. But with beat-heavy production remixes from the likes of Crystal Castles, Boys Noize, and Erol Alkan, Bloc Party would invade clubland far beyond the confiningly stiff circles of British indie.
And the band no doubt noticed. Follow-up album Weekend in the City included the awkward BPM-overdrive electro single "Flux," and 2008's Intimacy went full-on electronic, creating an aural personality crisis for the band. The shift sapped Bloc Party of their greatest asset in drummer Matt Tong, who in essence was replaced by machines. As of last October, they were officially on hiatus.
Enter Kele's The Boxer. It's a cerebral exploration in electronica, a tryst with Logic yielding an atmospheric dance album touching on vocal house and two-step while not bludgeoning the listener with blog-minded unst-unst electro. Spank Rock producer XXXchange's knob prints are evident, but it retains an icy pop sheen.
"I've always been a fan of electro music," says Kele by phone from the UK. "I wanted to re-create that dance or groove element, and in making The Boxer, that element came to the foreground more. I didn't want to use guitars. I didn't want to repeat Bloc Party."
The Boxer possesses a "focus and meanness" not found previously. "I enjoy the space electronic music affords," Kele admits. "I didn't make a cluttered record. It was created by one mind."
Although there will never be a VH1 Behind the Music to prove that Kele was the driving force behind changing his band's sonic direction, The Boxer makes a compelling case. "In a band, you're limited to what your technically capable of. With Bloc Party, we were a guitar-rock band, and that's why people liked us. But the music I always found inspiring was in the clubs and heard on dance floors. I always thought we were in a different place from where our fan base was, or at least I was. And that's fine."