Last year was somewhat of a solitary one for Kele Okereke; sometimes the Bloc Party frontman would go two or three days without speaking to anyone. Yet he was productive in that time; on a break from the band since 2009, he released a solo EP, The Hunter (the follow up to his 2010 album The Boxer) and finished a book that had been three years in the making. He traveled from his native London to experience the “neurotic energy” of New York’s streets and immerse himself in TV and internet images of protests and riots around the globe.
“I guess it made me start to think a little bit about my place on this planet and my sense of purpose,” Okereke tells Rolling Stone. “I’ve been a creative person since I was a child. It’s always been a form of therapy for me. I guess in times of crisis or turmoil I feel the need to write. It was hard not to be inspired while the only contact I had with the outside world seemed to be these kind of very dramatic images.”
As Okereke noted in a blog entry in May, writing music wasn’t a part of his 2011 plan – but that changed. The same post announced the completion of Bloc Party’s new record, Four, which will be released on the band’s new label, Frenchkiss Records, on August 21st. The British rockers had been on hiatus since 2009; Okereke admits that after six years of touring and recording, the band felt as if they were on a conveyor belt with little to no control over their next move. In 2010, they regrouped to discuss their future and came up with a blueprint for their next project: it had to sound like four people playing in a room. They wanted to cut the overdubs, toss the layering and embrace a raw, lo-fi sound that marked uncharted territory. “We felt as a band that we needed to reclaim the process,” Okereke explains.
Working with producer Alex Newport, the band began crafting the record that Okereke describes as “quite visceral and confrontational.” (Around the time that the group hit the studio, a rumor got out that Okereke had been fired from the band, though the other members denied it.) They brought that intensity to the album art, too: bassist Gordon Moakes designed the sleeve and Okereke worked closely with friend and director Nova Dando on the video for first single “Octopus.” Drummer Matt Tong shot and compiled the rehearsal and studio footage of their neat Four trailer, which includes the jittery “Octopus” and snippets of other new cuts; one mixes spitfire drums with soaring alt-rock guitars and another finds Kele screaming “Pain is hopeful/Pain is holy/Pain is healthy.” A third swoons with strings and the overall effect is, indeed, four guys in a room jamming and creating.
Bloc Party’s back-to-basics attempt and the turmoil around it are best left understated, says Okereke. “I’ve been rather cautious about not speaking too much about what things are supposed to mean, or what things are supposed to be about,” he says. “I think that it’s more exciting if people, if our fans, just got a record and sat with it and discovered the nuances for themselves, or they read something into the music that I hadn’t even seen.”