Captivated by his New York pals’ hazy tales of one-night stands, booty calls, and half-forgotten “tricks,” Kele Okereke would go on to use the bastardized term for the title of his second solo album. The word is alluring, a tad controversial, and fits the mood of the season, but couldn’t be less fit to actually describe the mood of this introspective 10-track affair.
Without context, a “trick” lacks substance, offering some short-term ecstasy but no long-term respect. Now that guitar-oriented artists are quick to jump on the dance music bullet train to snag club gigs and remix credits, the title evokes memories of ill-fated genre-hoppers like Chris Cornell with Scream and Kiss with Dynasty. But thankfully, neither the beats nor the lyrics on Trick are drawn from the shallow artistic well of enhanced marketability.
Since stepping into the recording studio with Paul Epworth a decade ago with the rest of Bloc Party to record Silent Alarm, Okereke has had tech-house song structures on his mind. That predisposition was enhanced by Epworth’s tendency to place the bass and drums above the guitars in the mix, making the album a hell of a lot more danceable than Bloc Party’s Brit-rock contemporaries. Thanks in part to the band’s success, Okereke has now been gifted the opportunity to fully embrace his 120 BPM roots. While the association with his post-punk band has no doubt aided his solo project’s PR, it’s not what earned him a credibility in the techno underground that’s not normally bestowed upon outsiders.
Whether it’s due to his current status in life or just the broader bass lines of these club cuts, Okereke has adopted a much less emphatic delivery. During the sensual after-hours album opener “First Impressions”, his soulful whispers casually glide through the track’s dark ambiance and guest vocalist Yasmin Shahmir’s angelic temptations. Without guitars, there’s more room for Okereke to test the limitations of his abilities; during the sullen garage vibes of “Year Zero”, he screams into his own contorted abyss, only to be challenged by his forsaken echoes. During follow-up cut “My Hotel Room”, Okereke eventually attempts to coax his beleaguered shadow into a seedy hotel affair. Parts of the album run the risk of sounding like Bloc Party B-sides, but Okereke does a fair job of altering his vocals, most notably taking on an androgynous persona during the bleak melodies of “Like We Used To”.
Okereke might have put time into developing weekly house mixes and learning from the eclectic Crosstown Rebels stable, but Trick comes from the heart of a fan, not necessarily the mind of a genre innovator. While the genre-bending sessions leading into Silent Alarm were intent on pulling together fans of club music, indie rock, R&B, and post-punk, these 10 cuts try to explore a new language. Along the way, Okereke delves into 2-step, post-Burial house, garage, deep house, and future bass, each dosed with his unique transparency. While more-seasoned producers can inspire feelings of solace, comfort, depression, lust, joy, and hope through beats alone, Okereke still clings tightly to the security of words. While emotive contemporaries across both Crosstown Rebels and No. 19 Music also take pride in infusing lush vocal motifs with dark melodies, Okereke does have a truly unique perspective to offer peers and fans alike.
As he mentioned several times in pre-Trick interviews, Okereke had historically felt more comfortable as a gay black man within the dance community than the indie rock scene. Trick contains the romantic, sexual thoughts and imagery that just wouldn’t work as part of Bloc Party’s discography. These are not odes to quick pickups or international sexual exploits, but the struggles that afflict all relationships. “Humour Me” is all about the rush of pleasure that comes with those early moments of attraction, the ethereal drumstep of “Closer” (the album’s fourth song) hints at the pains of long-distance connections, and the laziness that infests couples is the fuel for “Coasting”. One ballad in particular, album closer “Stay the Night”, leaves you questioning the very idea of monogamy: “Baby, I get you/ See, I don’t want to own you/ But my door will always be open for you.”
Having felt like an outsider for a period, if not the entirety, of his career, Okereke has made it a point to bring people together. Trick might not be a must-have album for working DJs across the tech-house scene, but it’s an earnest passion project that will once again bring some new faces into the worlds of dance music and indie alike.
Essential Tracks: “Stay the Night”, “Like We Used To”, and “Year Zero”