Music

Kele: The Boxer

On The Boxer, Kele has made a record from solid gold beats and squelching synths but it’s not clear whether it’s greater or lesser than the sum of its parts only because the math just doesn’t add up.


Kele

The Boxer

Label: Polydor
US Release Date: 2010-06-21
UK Release Date: 2010-06-21
Amazon
iTunes

People used to buy physical copies of records. This process, known then as the music business, involved exchanging hard currency for acetate or vinyl. It was intimately connected to the record stores in which this took place processing and pigeonholing bands for commercial purposes. However, by the early '90s, bands were blurring the lines between music in the rock/pop sections and the dance/electronic sections of these record stores. On a mainstream level that was very commercially appealing. Bloc Party were a part of this, too, helping to demolish indie kids’ prejudices towards dance music, and perhaps even towards dancing itself. They also performed several spectacular ram-raids on the charts with killer singles like "Helicopter", "Banquet", and, more recently, "Flux".

Bloc Party broke ground by making likable, acute, music that was radio-ready and had big pop hooks. By drawing on influences like Gang of Four, Talking Heads, and Wire, they opened up people's ears to the post-punk past. By allowing electronically-inclined produces to remix their songs, they made the dance floor accessible to people who formed opinions about music in the aftermath of ‘90s superclub culture. They gave everyone from music obsessives to passive consumers something to think and talk about, too.

The band’s hiatus after the release of 2008’s Intimacy gave Bloc Party’s frontman, Kele Okereke, the time to move to Berlin, and work with producers XXXChange and Hudson Mohawke in New York. In that time, Kele beefed up and made his sound more muscular, too.

On The Boxer, Kele has made a record from solid gold beats and squelching synths. It splatters, full of processed clunks and an air of intensity different to Bloc Party’s brooding anthems. This is the central point of difference between Kele’s solo output and that of Bloc Party. Where the latter were, defiantly, a rock band who dabbled with electronics, Kele’s music begins from a position of pure eclecticism and spreads outward.

The Boxer’s biggest hitters are its first three tracks, "Walk Tall", "On the Lam", and "Tenderoni". Disappointingly, they are heavy-handed where they need to be just heavy. Meanwhile, tracks like "The New Rules" and "All The Things I Could Never Say" are half-hearted when they should be full-blooded. It’s not clear whether it’s greater or lesser than the sum of its parts, because the math just doesn’t add up: it equates inner-city dubstep sounds with gentrified electro and globalized percussion, and it all sounds scrubbed up and sanitized.

If Kele’s been digging the crates, his findings sound more like he’s been tearing leaves out of textbooks than concocting theories and baffling us with a fevered imagination. It sounds like he’s been doing calculations and drawing graphs on his influences’ effectiveness rather than hammering his musical loves relentlessly.

"Tenderoni" is a buzzing club banger, sure, but its overhanging hook tries too hard to sound authentically housey. It’s not deep or resonant enough to match the dubstep it so wants to emulate, either. However, the martial opener, "Walk Tall", drills and demands attention, complete with a creeped-out anti-chorus. "On the Lam", meanwhile, sounds like a combination of uplifting '90s house, the brutal hardcore of that same period, with a contemporary sheen borrowed from Timbaland and Skream.

The Boxer is a thicker, heavier, version of the sort of music DFA were putting out almost 10 years ago. It doesn’t sound dated, but it does sound like Kele’s waited a long time to have his way and apply lessons that he learned during the early days of Bloc Party on his own terms. However, the album he’s made is much more successful when bent on making bodies jump, as his chaotic live sets have proved. As a result, the album isn’t particularly lovable, but it isn’t an artistic failure, either. Where The Boxer gobbles up contemporary music and spits it back out, hopefully, Kele will refine his palate for future offerings to turn out something more solid and consistent.

5
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Film

Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.

Music

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1996 Album 'All Set' Sees the Veteran Band Stretching Out and Gaining Confidence

After the straightforward and workmanlike Trade Test Transmissions, Buzzcocks continued to hone their fresh identity in the studio, as exhibited on the All Set reissue contained on the new box-set Sell You Everything.

Books

Patrick Madden's 'Disparates' Makes Sense in These Crazy Times

There's no social distancing with Patrick Madden's hilarious Disparates. While reading these essays, you'll feel like he's in the room with you.

Music

Perfume Genius Purges Himself and It's Contagious

You need to care so much about your art to pack this much meaning into not only the words, but the tones that adorn and deliver them. Perfume Genius cares so much it hurts on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.

Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump White House -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Music

Folk's Jason Wilber Examines the World Through a Futurist Lens in 'Time Traveler' (album stream)

John Prine's former guitarist and musical director, Jason Wilber steps out with a new album, Time Traveler, featuring irreverent, pensive, and worldly folk music.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.