With guest spots for Lianne La Havas and Fontaines DC’s Grian Chatten, these relaxed and personal songs hang together loosely, making an album to immerse in
As befits someone who has released their first album since coming out as non-binary in August 2020, Kae Tempest‘s latest record sounds looser, more relaxed and more personal than her previous work.
So, whereas previous Tempest albums such as Everyone Down or Let Them Eat Chaos had a conceptual theme running through them, on The Line Is A Curve, the songs hang together more loosely. What remains though is Tempest’s almost supernatural way with words, both lyrically and in delivery. This is an album to immerse yourself in, and bathe in Tempest’s imagery.
The other new aspect of The Line Is A Curve is the amount of collaborations. Whereas before the focus with clearly on Tempest, here they share the spotlight with names like Brockhampton‘s Kevin Abstract, Lianne La Havas and Grian Chatten of Fontaines DC. And that’s not to even mention arguably their most important collaborator, Dan Carey (also producer to the Fontaines), who again helps to colour Tempest’s tales with eerie, often beautiful soundscapes.
Opener Priority Boredom is built on a barrage of portentous, almost menacing synths, before Tempest’s rapid-fire delivery kicks in. Yet this is a more languid record than before, with the stark beauty of much of Tempest’s last album The Book Of Traps And Lessons being revisited. The most obvious example of this is No Prizes, which mixes minimal beats, a gorgeously soulful chorus from La Havas, and some typically vivid portraits of three separate characters from Tempest.
These Are The Days has an epic sound to it, full of horns and jazzy instrumentation, while Salt Coast paints a bleak portrait of Britain, with lyrics referencing “the tyranny and hate of Britannia rules the waves”. It’s a country where people are “six hours into some TV show that tastes like the feeling of pizza” while outside lies “discarded, masks, the empty tubes”.
Smoking has a more lo-fi feel, recorded as a voice note backstage at a festival, and featuring a guest verse by Confucius MC while More Pressure is reminiscent of Tempest’s earlier work, a danceable, synth-heavy number with Tempest’s vocals becoming more frantic as the song goes on. Kevin Abstract’s guest verse helps to flesh out the song, giving it an extra dimension.
There’s also some excellent interplay between Tempest and Chatten on I Saw Light, with the latter adopting his trademark half-spoken, half-sung delivery while spitting out lines like “now heliotropes around your light gather, and they chatter and chatter, make insipid remarks about things that don’t matter”. It soon becomes a compelling listen.
Grace brings things to a gorgeously hushed conclusion, with Tempest rapping over Carey’s acoustic guitar – half love song, half prayer, it’s up there with the likes of Firesmoke in terms of sheer beauty. It also revives the opening riff from Priority Boredom, giving the whole album a nicely circular feel – a fine ending to what may well be Tempest’s most enduring work to date.