Everything laid bare on Kae Tempest’s ‘The Line is a Curve’

From literally the first second, Kae Tempest has returned with something unique to present to us. A poet unlike another with a synth backbeat.

Showcasing their heavy and cockney British accent, Kae Tempest has a voice that immediately reminds me of John Cooper Clarke. A name I’m happy to use as a reference than a symbol of what poetry once was. A voice that’s needed today.

Now, that voice is heard on this new album: The Line is a Curve. A raw and stripped-down body of work that increases in both intimacy and a cold distance.

Kae Tempest
Credit: Wolfgang Tillmans

From the second the first song, Priority Boredom, is heard, it grabs your attention. The cold synths that pulse rhythmically as Kae Tempest’s voice compliments the texture. The words are percussive but full of content while the beat grows in intensity. The vulnerability contrasted with an almost militant beat is intoxicating.

The wall of synths suddenly disappears, we welcome, I Saw Light. From a beat that felt overwhelming, there are now no drums. Just a modular synth that pans around with wild abandon. Then enters, Nothing to Prove, the synths remain heard – what unites the whole record which explores endless juxtaposing landscapes.

No matter what’s explored, the synths keep us centred while the spoken word delivery gestures us forward. Kae Tempest has a sound pivotal for today’s music scene. A raw voice whose words evoke images of alienation, drinking and social anxiety.

It’s clear hip hop’s influence on Kae Tempest, but to merely call it as such is wrong. Here is an artist from many genres influences. Post-Punk, Electronic, Lo-Fi. I hear The Cure, The Streets, Blur, Massive Attack – artists firmly declaring their nationality of British but not keeping anyone out from joining the party.

No Prizes presents itself at the perfect time. There are delicate piano structures in the song which give density and intimacy but it’s the sultry and seductive melody of Lianne La Havas that steals the show. It provides the levity and femininity that makes Kae Tempest’s world further inviting. But, as we’re enjoying the sensitivity of Havas, Salt Coast, brings us back to a colder landscape.

This is exactly what’s brilliant about this record. It clearly has an identity, and yet pivots constantly. The ability to have a sound of your own but be unafraid to go off the deep end is what music needs today.

Closer to the end of the work, on a song like their most popular, More Pressure, with Kevin Abstract, I’m happy to say Kae’s voice hasn’t changed at all. Sure, it goes softer, quieter or louder song after song, but it’s their voice, unaltered, throughout the whole record. A voice and mind with clearly plenty left to say and more worlds to take us to. The Line is a Curve is one of many that I’m happy to explore.