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By Candace McDuffie
Photos by Rachael Wright
Hymns, the fifth album from indie lotharios Bloc Party, is a palpable departure from previous efforts. Granted, frontman Kele Okereke’s effortless charisma remains strongly intact and he is just as pensive on Hymns as he was on the band’s 2005 debut Silent Alarm. But on their latest creation, hooks are less confetti-covered and contain more of a transparent, glassy feel. Not only is Okereke refreshingly lucid through crippling generational malaise, but he is seductive in his modern-day soul searching and subversive lyricism. Although his words carry an ethereal weight, the vocalist knows it was a process to get to this point.
“Every record from Silent Alarm on was crammed with textures – and I didn’t think that much about the lyrics. Now we’ve refined our approach,” Okereke divulges. He is also quick to acknowledge Bloc Party’s conceptually bolder stance of indulging their whims without ever getting tiresome. “During Intimacy, we were exploring using the recording studio as a tool in the writing process. It was fun to try and see what stuck…letting inspiration come and not forcing it is what we enjoyed most. When something in the physical world or a phrase excites me or when something appears randomly in my mind…it’s just better than forcing an idea.”
The confessional and texturally enriched Hymns is a naturally progressive surge into the band’s foray into minimal grandiosity; gone are the days of endless neon pulses and digital addiction in favor of melodies that possess infinite amounts of sublime simplicity. Quixotic opener “The Love Within” bobs languidly around slippery reverb while the willful isolation of “So Real” comes off as slender-yet-strong. Despite vivid imagery and apparent surrender to some sort of higher power, Okereke isn’t one to disclose the meaning behind every single lyric. “With Hymns, I was just trying to describe what I hold to be sacred. I’m not really a religious person – it was just about what inspired me,” he reveals. “I can’t really explain the lyrics…I don’t see what other people see. They may not see it how I see it. But a lot of it is an ode to nature. I feel the presence of the divine when I am closest to it.”
When it comes to each Bloc Party record, Okeruke recalls how skillful his band mates are and how they have gotten used to being in tune with one another. “It’s just gathering material and basic ideas and [the band] just gets it so organically. When we write as a band, it’s very much collaborative…just being in a room jamming together. But it’s funny,” he teases. “I don’t really listen to any of our records after making them so intensely. The only record I listen to currently is Hymns – that’s the most reflective of what we are now.”
The new album is sweetly tuneful and genuinely deep – characteristics that can be attributed to Okeruke’s penchant for thinking outside the box. “I pride myself on growing up in London. Growing up there, it didn’t feel like we had any boundaries. I was constantly exposed to do different worlds, cultures, all types of things. I love trying to do different things musically and learning as much about new stuff that I didn’t know before.” Okereke’s narration is as wistful as it is factual. “I’ve always been into Elliott Smith and Leonard Cohen, but I love rock music and pop music. I’m also getting into the neo-soul world currently, which I don’t know that much about.”
When it comes to Bloc Party’s live presence, their energy is borderline elusive. On the surface, it can be classified as cinematic art rock; each member plays their heart out while basking in cathedral reverb and synth swaddle. Okereke’s cosmic vocal glow is never more powerful than when he sings with flying-off-the rails urgency during one of their shows.
Though they may have one of the most pulsating live shows on the planet, the frontman emphasizes the importance of balance. “I’m really happy about just constantly doing stuff…just being in motion. But with touring, I’ve been doing it for 15 years so I understand that you always have to travel and always be away. It’s a bit of a binary feeling,” he discloses. “Although I’m used to being on the road, I easily enjoy being domestic at home…walking my dog, cooking, watching stuff on YouTube.” It’s not long before our cell connection starts giving way and even though Okereke is pressed for time (his publicist is on the line timing the interview), he is prompted to add anything about Hymns that he didn’t get a chance to discuss earlier. His smile literally radiates through the phone. “I’ve been talking about this record for the last six months and I know when I hear that question, it’s pretty much the end of the interview,” he jokingly states. “I’m good.”
Yes. He is.
Standout Track: “So Real”
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