Random Rules: Kele Okereke of Bloc Party
The shuffler: Kele Okereke, guitarist and lead singer for London's Bloc Party. The band debuted strongly in 2005 with Silent Alarm, but sounds much more confident and versatile on this year's follow-up, A Weekend In The City.
Prince, "Alphabet St."
Kele Okereke: I went through a real personal stage a few years ago, literally trying to get my hands on everything I could by Prince. We watch a lot of performances of his from the '80s on video, and it was just the most audacious, over-the-top, garish performance, but so completely thrilling at the same time. You kind of realize that now you don't really see that much musical showmanship. He was just a consummate performer. I don't know anyone who can rival that. Certainly not Justin Timberlake. [Laughs.] [Prince] made this completely ludicrous idiosyncratic world in his songs, and I'm a huge fan of his, subsequently. Actually, he's playing in London, but we're not gonna be here because we're on tour, and I'm very upset about that.
Sia, "Breathe Me"
KO: It's on the Six Feet Under soundtrack, probably my favorite TV series ever. It's the only series that I can watch from start to finish. And this song appears right at the end of the final series, I think the fifth season. It's this real plaintive piano ballad, and I've never been so moved by the climax of a television show, ever. I was really upset. I think I started crying. I've watched all of these episodes from start to finish. You kind of have this false relationship with the characters, and to see the series so neatly rounded up felt kind of sad, like you hadn't said goodbye to them. That sounds really dorky, but I've never really had that relationship with any TV shows I've ever watched before. It's just an incredibly well-written TV show, and an incredibly beautiful song that ended the show.
ESG, "My Street"
KO: I just completely love their swagger, I really love their attitude, and I love the singer's voice. Not the best players in the world, but they create a style that they've completely inhabited. And I think it's really impressive when you find bands that do that, that aren't conventional players, that make something that sounds completely otherworldly, like The Slits or Joy Division. And I just love the attitude of ESG. When we wrote "She's Hearing Voices," our first single, I was trying to rip them off.
Smashing Pumpkins, "Mayonaise"
KO: It's funny, everyone else I know really loves this song, but I'm not the biggest fan. I really love Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, for me definitely the pinnacle of their songwriting. With one of our songs now ["Little Thoughts"], we start playing the riff from "1979," and everyone in the audience does this kind of double take, because they're not really expecting it, but we're all huge Pumpkins fans. It's one of the guitar bands that made me want to start playing guitar. I'm really curious about their return. I remember seeing them at their farewell show at Wembley Arena. It was probably one of the worst concerts I've ever been to. I never felt so removed from a band that I used to care so much about. They played these kind of half-assed, softer versions of their songs.
The A.V. Club: What do you think of Billy Corgan's work since?
KO: I haven't heard any of his solo record. I heard some of his Zwan songs that I thought were all right. The idea of taking Billy Corgan out of Smashing Pumpkins has no appeal to me.
Justin Timberlake, "SexyBack"
KO: Despite my earlier disparaging comment about Justin Timberlake, I am a very big fan of some of the songs on the records he makes. I'm fully aware that he didn't make the records, he didn't write the songs, he didn't program the synth or whatever, but the team behind him, Timbaland on this record and Pharrell Williams on the first record, has made some incredibly interesting pop songs. I remember when I first heard "SexyBack." We were in the studio, when I was recording the vocals to "The Prayer," actually, and that kind of real nasty synth line came in. The song, for me, was a cross between Death From Above 1979 and James Brown. I was really, really blown away by it, and I think that really fused how I interpreted the vocals for "The Prayer."
AVC: Those seem like the last two songs anyone would think were connected.
KO: I just remember the morning that I heard "SexyBack," thinking, "Wow." For a pop song it was incredibly daring, to have that distorted vocal and the ugly synth and that real creepy, perv-y factor.
Sleater-Kinney, "Get Up"
KO: My favorite Sleater-Kinney song. I remember thinking the beat on the song was completely crazy, this weird kind of backward—I don't know. When I first heard it, [I was] bobbing my head incessantly, and that's how I define a good song, really, if it reaches you subconsciously and it forces you to react to it. I've loved Sleater-Kinney ever since. I think it's a real shame that they had to split up. I have more of their albums than I do any other band's. I just love the comparison between Corin Tucker's voice and Carrie Brownstein's voice, and I think what Corin does on the guitar is fantastic. They're definitely one of my favorite bands of all time.
KO: What can I say about this song? It's actually my favorite song on Internal Wrangler. It's this real kind of gentle organ ballad. Which for a band like Clinic, where everything's kind of skronky and driving, it's just a real warm, beautiful song. I think they're a good band, and they've got a new record out.
Janet Jackson and Carly Simon, "Son Of A Gun"
KO: I didn't realize this was on my iPod until a week ago when I was on a plane, just going through it. I download a lot of music and don't even listen to it, so when I have periods of downtime, I like to see what I don't recognize, and listen to it. I've never been the biggest Janet Jackson fan, but for some reason, I downloaded a lot of her singles. The thing that was most interesting was that I think Carly Simon actually sung her vocal to the song rather than taking the leap from "You're So Vain"—well, they sampled the chorus from "You're So Vain," but there's a section of the song where Carly Simon actually sings, and I just love Carly Simon's voice. And it's a very dark kind of song that sounds great in clubs.
Arvo Pärt, "Fratres For Violin And Piano"
KO: It's probably one of my favorite classical pieces ever, really. I'm not the biggest classical-music connoisseur. I remember a period in 2005 where I was just listening to chorus and orchestral music, it was just because it was something I lost while I was at school. When I was getting prepared for A Weekend In The City, I was really trying to focus on things I wouldn't ordinarily listen to. And this piece is just one of my favorites, a real bittersweet, lilting arrangement—completely transcendent.