After the 2016 election, and along with more than half of the United States, I nursed a hangover and impending sense of doom with small comforts. Wouldn’t Vancouver be a beautiful place to relocate? How about that dream of retiring to the Italian countryside — maybe I could do it sooner? Comedy would be sharp. And music — especially music — would be vibrant and full of righteous anger.
Three years later and the list of artists engaging directly with the right-wing ugliness in our country (and its creeping breadth in the larger world) is woefully small. Indie pop is lost in its echoey fog; rock is D.O.A.; even hip-hop has been strangely silent. There are exceptions, of course, but the two best responses have come from the U.K.
In May, School of Language, an ongoing side-project from Field Music’s David Brewis, released 45, a herky-jerky funk excursion wherein Brewis repurposed direct quotes from the 45th president, shit you just can’t make up, and turned political activism into a funny, infuriated, surreal journey that you could dance to while waiting for the world to end.
Now comes Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke with his fourth solo record, 2042. Wherein Brewis used 45’s own words to point up his ludicrous personality and mob-inciting rhetoric, Okereke’s take is much more personal.
“The political backdrop that we’re experiencing right now is quite frightening to me,” Okereke has said. “The most powerful man in the world in the U.S. is a racist and, in this country, the Prime Minister is an unapologetic racist too. Brexit has unleashed a wave of nativist patriotism and there’s been an unleashing of ugliness and a coarsening of the rhetoric. I’ve never experienced such widespread public racism….”
He explores the growing divide across 16 tracks (three of which are “interludes”) that highlight his love of electronic dance music while also folding in some of the streamlined muscle that made Bloc Party an alternative buzz band back in 2005.
He confronts the “widespread public racism” directly on the West African-influenced opener “Jungle Bunny,” while also addressing the perceived indifference of black performers (specifically, but not exclusively, Kanye West and A$AP Rocky). “It just seems like a delusion really, the most arrogant delusion when black entertainers feel like they are above ideas of talking about race,” he has said. “Have I ever felt that I was above discussions of race in my work? I mean … I don’t think so. That’s not who I am.”
He gets glammy on the spiritual “Between Me and My Maker,” pays homage to the trials and tribulations of a fellow activist on “St. Kaepernick Wept,” and takes stock of his homeland and decides it would be perfectly fine to “Let England Burn.”
Who can blame him? Having come out in 2010, and having two children via surrogate with his husband, Okereke has more than a vested interested in bequeathing to his kids the best world he can.
“It’s my responsibility as the non-white parent to prepare them,” he has said. “That’s where this album has come from — trying to create a sense of black Britishness that isn’t reductive and isn’t just a caricature of what the white masses feel that being black is about. I don’t claim to have the monopoly of the black experience and I wouldn’t want anybody to think that, but I do have a perspective and I do have a voice. I feel like I have to put this out there in the most unapologetic way possible. It’s what we need: we need more stories.”