Kae Tempest: The Line Is a Curve Album Review

This is Tempest’s show, but musicians who have been playing with them since they first began gigging provide little smatterings of drums, guitar, tuba, cornet, and french horn. Further contributions come from Fontaines D.C.’s Grian Chatten (whose verse on “I Saw Light” feels conservative and glib compared to Tempest’s incisive and intimate imagery) and former BROCKHAMPTON member Kevin Abstract, who was introduced to Tempest through Rick Rubin, the album’s executive producer. Tempest and Carey have spent the last several years learning from the studio guru, using their time at Shangri-La trying to reconstruct the relationship between Tempest’s intricately polysyllabic verses with Carey’s post-dubstep productions. On 2019’s The Book of Traps and Lessons, their first Rubin-produced project, Carey reined in his sound, leaving more space for Tempest’s words. Carey and Tempest repeat this formula on The Line Is a Curve: As Carey’s synths brood, Tempest explores a whole poetry anthology’s worth of meters. Their dramatic delivery functions like a musical monologue, and their lyrics, which are stuffed with glottal stops and plosive consonants, function like a layer of percussion against Carey’s largely beatless electronic meanderings.

Throughout, Tempest balances character study, vignettes, monologues, and prosaic details that function metonymically—“Discarded masks, empty tubes/The colds, the flus,” they rap on “Salt Coast”—with each detail reconstructing the universe we live in. Tempest’s visceral yet temperate delivery is comparable to Little Simz’s calm conviction. Like Simz, too, Tempest is almost Biblical in their mode of address. Tempest’s linguistic instinct, however, is nearly peerless. The tight iambic trimeter of “Nothing to Prove”—ten lines of six slick syllables—sounds like bullets. Elsewhere, on “Priority Boredom,” where each verse is dedicated to its own vowel sound, the monotony of individualism is cleverly represented with congested “or” sounds: “Priority boredom/Gorging/Four courses/Forced absorption,” they spit, the words like slushy fruit in their mouth.

The Line Is a Curve functions as a therapeutic exercise in resilience and repetition. Starting from a place of isolation and dejection, Tempest ends with community-facing lightness and love. “But if you do not bring forth what is within you/What you do not bring forth will destroy you,” they prophesy—an epiphany that doesn’t last long, before the opening melody from “Priority Boredom” returns, and Tempest starts the journey over again.

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Kae Tempest: The Line Is a Curve

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