The Designer’s Drugs: Kele – The Boxer

The Boxer

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Kele – The Boxer

Credit Bloc Party singer Kele Okereke for wanting to explore beyond his band’s usual purview, but at least half of his solo debut is unremarkable electro-pop.  Most of the songs on The Boxer feature some form of dysfunction, whether it be excessive minimalism, dull and repetitive beats, the overuse of phone operator samples, or the cloying female backing vocals which derail a few songs.  Indeed, the only constant to be found on this album is that Kele Okereke has a passionate and powerful voice, even when his lyrics are trite.

And he certainly is capable of trite, something which clashes with his music at times.  During the thrilling, dark electronic stomping of “Walk Tall,” Kele’s voice struts around a battlefield of his own making, barking out military cadence and listing nonsensical rules of conduct.  In the electronic throbbing of “Tenderoni,” he takes time out to spell the name of the song, which is rather asinine.  On musical merit, both of these songs rank among the album’s best, but the goofiness of the vocals distracts.

Yet there is some good to come from this experiment.  Taken at face value, “On the Lam” is a flashy Europop tune, but it’s neat to note that the song’s seething female vocals are actually Kele, who tweaked his voice into sex change and plays it well.  “All the Things I Could Never Say” takes the album’s forays into minimalism and does it right, with Kele overpowering a loop with his voice.  Vocally, this is the most amazing piece on the album – that is, until Kele’s lady henchman bursts in.

There’s something telling about The Boxer, when its best song, “Unholy Thoughts,” is essentially a Bloc Party song, aglow in fast drums and high bass.  Kele’s leap beyond a band serves up a few good tracks, but it seems that the structure of his group works best for him.

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The Designer’s Drugs: Pictures of Then – And the Wicked Sea

And the Wicked Sea

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Pictures of Then – And the Wicked Sea

From the Twin Cities, Pictures of Then is a band which mixes strutting rock with soft-spoken piano and guitar balladry, throwing in a little country twang when the mood demands.  The catchiest song in the collection is “When It Stings,” a track set to full strut and wail, accented by buzzing synths which serve as the most restrained element in a song that has lost its shit.

When it tones things down, Pictures of Then is at its best in the stately “Lands Uncharted,” which closes the album with stoic piano.  “Stuck” is a lonely tune which swims between jangles of guitar and drops of piano, and “Ahead” carries on that mood with a little more space but no less gravity.

When the scales are set, the band’s softness outweighs its swagger.  “When It Stings” is a fantastic song, but the rest of the album’s strut can fall short at times.  The quiet, however, can be epic.