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The Waves Pt. 1 Zara Hedderman , May 31st, 2021 07:40

Former Bloc Party frontman's lockdown record may be his most dreamlike and effective record yet, finds Zara Hedderman

Over twelve months into lockdown, we’ve reached a point where quarantine art is sprouting abundantly. Work inspired by new rituals incurred from the global shut-down, and being brought to life via alternative methods of creating. That’s not to say songwriters are thumbing through old notebooks searching for sprawling lists of words rhyming with sourdough, knitting or Tiger King. The way we work, across countless industries, has changed completely. We’ve had to adapt and produce under conditions born out of necessity. For many, this has been an exciting and reinvigorating prospect. If The Waves Pt.1 is anything to go by, it would seem that British songwriter and musician Kele Okereke’s creativity thrived, if not excelled, in this new approach.

Having finished a busy 2019, which included the release of his fourth solo studio record, 2042 and warm reviews for his first play entitled Leave to Remain (co-written with Matt Jones), Okereke was preparing to start writing a second musical. Then lockdown happened and he found himself at home looking after his two young children. Fortunately, being forced into self-sufficiency in his home-studio failed to compromise the scope of these twelve enthralling arrangements. In fact, these could be amongst his most interesting and intricately textured compositions to date.

Ever since the early days of Bloc Party, down to Okereke’s solo material, his commanding presence has always managed to match the sheer power and breadth of his accompanying instrumentations. That remains the case on this offering, albeit with less frequency across the tracklist. ‘The Way We Live Now’ hears him howl in anguish towards an unfaithful partner (“Either way, this has to end. Have I made myself understood”) and his impressive falsetto wraps around the listener for the duration of ‘Smalltown Boy’, a chilling cover of Bronski Beat’s synth-pop classic from 1984. Much like the overall mood of the instrumentation, Okereke is a natural shapeshifter within a series of dynamic soundscapes which draw inspiration from Radiohead, Broadcast, and Stereolab, among others.

Aside from those particularly impassioned performances, Okereke’s cadence is typically casual and intimate. A more hushed and sombre tone invites closer attention to his words. At times, it’s as though his thoughts unconsciously tumble from his lips in the moment of their conception. ‘They Didn’t See It Coming’ is a perfect example of his laid-back timbre as he guides us through his night-time walk on which he meets foxes and burnt-out police cars. A charming arrangement of bouncing guitar licks and looped melodies accelerates the story and is immediately inviting to the listener. On the surface, it seems like a happy-go-lucky ditty.Oon closer inspection, however, the many layers involved reveal the subtle sophistication woven throughout Okereke’s songwriting. This is a wonderful feat and recurring aspect of The Waves Pt. 1’s arrangements.

To anyone unfamiliar with Okereke’s solo output, The Waves Pt.1, presents a more tempered execution of his artistry and is a welcoming entry point. In the place of claustrophobic thumping percussion, motorik melodies provide solid foundations for liminal synth motifs and intricately performed guitar riffs to take precedence. Cinematic in nature, Okereke revealed that he was greatly inspired by classical music and film scores during the recording of the album. The piano-led ‘Nineveh’, a quaint shapeshifter, feels like a natural bedfellow to the lighter, more romantically inclined moments in Jonny Greenwood’s compositions for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. Elsewhere, there’s an overall grey-scale cast upon the majority of the songs, notably ‘Dungeness’ which evokes a similar chilling calmness that dominates the scenery of Hitchock’s The Birds. These touchstones, in particular, do well to emphasise the overarching nocturnal air and looming anxiety that characterises the soundscapes.

Countering the inherent anxiousness, a constant dreamlike quality within all of these songs effortlessly washes over the listener for sweet relief. Perhaps the most irresistible instances of this come with the three instrumentals: the aforementioned ‘Dungeness’, ‘The Patriots’, and ‘The Heart of The Wave.’ Of the latter, Okereke described how sitting in his room playing his guitar was a great source of therapy. (Elsewhere, therapy as an inspiration returns with the mystically-inclined meditation, ‘Intentions’.) In these instrumentals, we’re presented with some of the more diversified and immediately effective arrangements. ‘The Patriots’, especially, stands out for its eerie hauntology before being usurped by an exhilarating prog sidestep in its final moments. Overall, this is a rewarding and captivating body of work. The Waves Pt.1 is a testament to Kele Okereke’s adaptability as an artist.