Until Kele Okereke joins guest vocalist Lucy Taylor halfway through “What Did I Do?”, the opening track on his second solo release, you might think you were listening to a mislabeled track by pop dubstep queen Katy B. Who would have predicted five years ago that the painfully earnest Bloc Party frontman would hurl himself so fully into the world of strobes and sub bass? If last year’s impressive, dancefloor-targeted album The Boxer still seemed as if it might be a one-off before returning to the day job, then his ex-bandmates’ recent announcement that they’re auditioning new singers puts this seven-song EP in a very different context: Bloc Party was then, this is now.
Some distance out of the closet, and now based in New York, Kele’s obvious enthusiasm for this new phase in his life transmits vividly to the music. Retaining Boxer producer XXXChange, he adds the likes of Sub Focus (U.K.) and Fred Falke (France) and QNESS (South Africa) to extend his reach. “Release Me” pitches him as a late-’80s Chicago house singer in the vein of Robert Owens while the euphoric rush of “Devotion” recalls the Pet Shop Boys in their acid house phase. “You Belong to Someone Else” is a winningly berserk mix of perky call-and-response vocals, twinkly Afro-pop and blasts of rave noise.
Kele often stumbled when he strained for profundity with Bloc Party so there’s a liberating simplicity to a sentiment like Devotion’s “It’s you that makes my heart burn like the sun,” but he hasn’t lost the emotional tug in his voice, nor his experimental hunger. “Love Is a Weapon” is a remarkable production job with a rhythm track chattering like a machine gun before dissolving in a flurry of piano arpeggios. Even more so than The Boxer, The Hunter is so much more enjoyable and persuasive than most Bloc Party records that you only wonder why he left it so long to go solo.