Tales of love and intimacy
Kate Tempest is an English spoken-word performer, poet and writer whose dark, abstract lyrics and slam poet-esque delivery sets her measures apart from many of her recording artist contemporaries. Tempest provides a listening experience, unlike any other comparable rapper or performer, blending dark lyrics about the apocalypse with analysis of the dismal British political landscape among other things. Tempest’s third album, The Book of Traps and Lessons, is a sprawling, eleven-song project that features Tempest’s grim spoken-word poetry over stark, minimalist production. Seasoned producers Rick Rubin and Dan Carey rely heavily on sparse melodies and flattened drum patterns to create a strange acapella sensation that allows the vocals to cut through the production. Due to this effect, in many of the songs, it feels like there is a divide between Tempest and the production. Tempest’s poetry is unashamedly the subject of each song while the rest of the track feels more like an awkward background instrumental. The Book of Traps and Lessons feels more like a poetry reading, or more abstractly an art exhibit, than a musical experience.
On “All Humans Too Late,” Tempest’s isolated voice recites a poem about the dim future of humanity. She delves into everything from pornography to not saying “hello” on the train platform. While this track has some interesting elements, particularly in the theme of isolation, it generally feels unfocused. Some of the issues that she discusses in this track are dwarfed by others, but she continues to drone through each line with the same bitter inflection. Her lines about racism feel somewhat naïve and vague, always favoring a poetic line or artistic juxtaposition instead of taking a clear stance on social justice or change.
The song “Firesmoke” is undoubtedly the highlight of the album. On this track, Tempest’s vocals blend well with the production, creating an intimate, warm feeling that resonates in the chord progression. Lyrically, “Firesmoke” is the least grim track on the album, telling chaotic tales of love and intimacy. “Firesmoke” feels like the one song where the immense creative power of the producers and writing ability of Tempest is joined in a concise, beautiful way.
Kate Tempest’s The Book of Traps and Lessons is unlike any other album this year. Between the immense firepower behind the production and Tempest’s undoubted skill and poetic ability, this album has so much going for it. However, the broad scope of what is wrong with humanity today creates an often-unfocused piece where it can be difficult for the listener to apply the necessary amount energy required to appreciate the grandeur of Tempest’s poetry fully.