Kae TempestKae Tempest: The Line Is A Curve

(Fiction Records)

LP|CD|DL

Released 8th April 2022

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Kae Tempest: The Line Is A Curve – album review

 

Kae Tempest returns with their fourth album, The Line Is A Curve. More personal, warmer and musically evolved, it represents an important milestone in their career. Gordon Rutherford reviews for Louder Than War.

It’s been quite the journey for Kae Tempest, both personally and artistically. To date, they have been responsible for three plays, a novel, six poetry books and a work of non-fiction. That’s before we get to the music. Three albums, the first two nominated for the Mercury Prize. Their second album, Let Them Eat Chaos will go down as one of the most original albums of this millennium. It was followed by something of a left turn in the form of the Rick Rubin produced The Book Of Traps And Lessons; an album that marked a surprising, yet unexpectedly welcome, departure from the visceral intensity of Let Them Eat Chaos. Stripped back, with acoustic piano and melancholic strings, it showed the world that here was an artist with more than one string to their bow. Now comes their fourth album, The Line Is A Curve, and pleasingly it marks yet another step forward.

In interviews, Tempest has described The Line Is A Curve as a more personal record and that is manifested visually from the outset, with their face adorning the album’s artwork. That’s a first for Tempest and hints at an increased confidence, openness and trust. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Tempest expressed “I can feel myself opening up”. Inevitably, this confidence in showing themselves stems from the well-documented trajectory of their personal life. As they describe, “I feel less shame in my body because I am not hiding from the world anymore”. This is highly relevant because it translates into the music. Lyrically, they have never been more personal. Furthermore, there is a significantly more relaxed, fluid feel to the music. Gone, for the most part, is that edgy, post-dubstep vibe.

Instead, there is a strong electronic presence throughout The Line Is A Curve. It’s as though they have bumped into Yellow Magic Orchestra in Catford High Street and convinced them to become their backing band for this album. Those bubbling synths bring a different vibe to Tempest’s delivery and, broadly speaking, this record feels like their warmest one to date. It certainly doesn’t carry the anger of Let Them Eat Chaos. Then again, nor does it hang on such an ingenious concept.

We are immediately struck by this different version (musically speaking) of Tempest from the minute the needle hits the record. Priority Boredom opens with glacial, rippling waves of electronic sound before Tempest’s machine-gun delivery joins in. It’s an impressive beginning that gets even better with the following track. The minimalist, arpeggiated synth on I Saw Light repeats on a loop that is devoid of beats. Instead, the rhythm of the track comes from Tempest’s delivery. Here, they interact superbly with the soft Irish burr of the first of several collaborators on The Line Is A Curve, Fontaines D.C.’s Grian Chatten. I Saw Light is an outstanding track, with its intimate feel creating an impression of Tempest and Chatten facing each other in an unfurnished room, lit only by a dim, bare bulb. It is like a confessional as they communicate via a distinctive form of rap poetry that only they understand.

The magic of I Saw Light comes from the absolute minimalism of the music. That’s what allows the voices to take centre stage and when it comes to Tempest’s work, the words really matter. Obviously. When the music is stripped back, it facilitates the impact of the words. This is also demonstrated perfectly is on the collaboration with Confucius MC, Smoking. Once again, there is an absence of beats throughout the first half of the tune. The sole source of the music is an isolated, bleeping synth. Even when the beats enter to accompany Confucius’ rap halfway through, they don’t detract from the core because we are already engaged.

Kae Tempest: The Line Is A Curve – album review
Photo by Wolfgang Tillmans

By contrast, some tracks on The Line Is A Curve do not succeed in drawing us in with quite the same impact, and that’s because they function in a fashion that is the polar opposite to both tracks discussed above. The album’s longest track, Salt Coast and its shortest, Move, are perfect examples of songs where Tempest’s voice is suffocated by the music. It’s not that the music is engulfing or overpowering, it’s simply that everything blends into one. Notwithstanding that, Tempest remains one of our most innovative and thought provoking artists and despite the occasional mis-step, there is plenty enough going on within this album to keep us hooked.

Lianne La Havas proves to be an outstanding collaborator on No Prizes, her smouldering and soulful vocal perfectly contrasting with Tempest’s spoken word. The preceding track, Nothing To Prove, has the intensity and urgency of anything on Let Them Eat Chaos. It’s a fascinating listen as a languid synth provides a compelling counterpoint to Tempest’s visceral rap. Equally intriguing is the brilliant These Are The Days, which opens with an AOR guitar riff. Most un-Tempest; most surprising. The track develops and unfolds magnificently, with dramatic, guitar-led sweeps, whilst all the while Tempest’s words increase in their urgency. And this is where the brilliance stems from. Those moments when we are caught off guard; the occasions when the contrast between the music and voice is most stark.

The album’s closing track, Grace, also ticks these boxes. Again, it’s a guitar-led piece, albeit this time it’s an acoustic guitar, delicately plucked, that provides the platform for Tempest’s lyrics. Like so many of this album’s high points, it is beat-less. Space abounds. Tempest’s voice flourishes in that space.

Tempest’s progression is not only musical; the perspective of their lyrics has also altered. Just as they allow us in by showing themselves visually on the album artwork, they also lift the veil lyrically. Kind of. These are an unquestionably more personal collection of words, particularly when compared to Let Them Eat Chaos, yet they are also more opaque. Of course, that earlier album was a concept album, a story about other people. Covertly, it crept into the rooms, and the anxieties, of a group of neighbours in a London street at 4.18am. Inevitably, one becomes more personal when they stop talking about the lives of others. Becoming more transparent, however, isn’t quite so easy. Perhaps Tempest prefers it that way.

Towards the end of that beautiful closing track, Tempest sings/says “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you/But if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you”. I believe that at some point in the future, we will reflect on The Line Is A Curve as an important development in the career of Kae Tempest. The moment when they opened up and allowed us in. The moment when they brought forth what was within. I cannot say whether that has saved them or not, but it has led to the creation of a very good album, one that surprises and delights and evidences a clear musical progression.

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Kae Tempest can be found here. They are also on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Fiction Records can be found here. They are also on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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All words by Gordon Rutherford. More writing by Gordon can be found in his archive.

Gordon is also on Twitter as @R11Gordon and has a website here: https://thedarkflux.com

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Author of Midnight at the Old Aces. Part time bassist, guitarist and synth noodler. Enthusiastic photographer.

1 COMMENT

  1. ‘Tempest has described The Line Is A Curve as a more personal record and that is manifested visually from the outset, with their face adorning the album’s artwork. That’s a first for Tempest and hints at an increased confidence, openness and trust. ‘
    FYI – The LP Everybody Down has an intimate portrait of Kae (Kate) on the cover.

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