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Album Review: The Line Is A Curve – Kae Tempest

For any fan of Kae Tempest, The Line Is A Curve breaks new and exciting ground, preserving that power that we’ve come to love and expect whilst exploring new avenues as yet untouched. 

The first thing that stands The Line Is A Curve obviously apart from previous entries into the Tempest canon is that it contains features. Upon discovering this, I was intrigued to see how they’d fit alongside Kae’s unique sound. In truth, I had held some reservations, concerned that the features were more of an attempt to appeal to mainstream audiences and wouldn’t fit with the distinctive delivery, detailed imagery, and profound lyricism that has stood Tempest apart from other artists of their generation. I was thoroughly mistaken. From Fontaine’s D.C.’s Grian Chatten‘s softly spoken poetry on ‘I Saw The Light’ to fellow South-Londoner Confucius MC spitting deep-cutting bars closing out ‘Smoking’, the features compliment Tempest’s strengths superbly.

That’s not to say the features don’t come as stark contrasts to Tempest’s work, but where this juxtaposition could’ve been awkward or seemed jarringly out of place, it has been done with such craft that it adds to the listening experience tremendously. Simultaneously, the features subvert expectations, from the quick cadence of ‘I Saw The Light”s opening, it feels at first like Chatten will keep pace, then he doesn’t, to a spectacular final result. Finally on features, it would be remiss not to mention the serene vocals provided by Lianne La Havas and ãssia on ‘No Prizes’ and ‘Water in the Rain’ respectively, finely contributing to Kae’s creation of a sound truly contemplative in nature, fit for all purposes, whether tackling demons from the past, choosing a path for the future, or simply grappling with the here and now. 

Whilst the features are certainly laudable it would not do justice to the record as a whole to dwell on them for too long as The Line Is A Curve sees some of Tempest’s finest solo tracks to date. From ‘Salt Coast”s challenge to notions of national identity to the punching pace of Kae’s flow on ‘Nothing To Prove’, this album contains much more to be excited by for fans. With that said, not everything is new. Throughout the album the message of hope, introspection, reflection, and personal growth present in previous incarnations of Tempest’s artworks persist, tying in the changes to what we’ve come to love and expect from their work, grounding the excitement in the comfort that adjustments aren’t at the expense of a ‘proper’ Kae Tempest record. 

Finally, for the fans of Firesmoke, look forward to the album’s closer ‘Grace.’ Infectiously amorous, ‘Grace’ not only depicts a particular relationship but also executes an exploration of elements deeper in love, the vulnerability, the trust and the learning all entailed in the formation of something beautiful. With all this delivered over the lightly plucked strings of an acoustic guitar, so far as to almost sound like a harpsichord, ‘Grace’ is simply gorgeous and an excellent finish to a wonderful album, its levity leaving us with an ultimately positive takeaway message. 

To finish, I thoroughly enjoyed this album; The Line Is A Curve is both excitingly novel and steadfast in preserving those parts which make Kae Tempest and their work so special. This balance is hard to achieve in music, with artists often compromising their strengths for the sake of features for broader appeal, or sticking within their comfort zone until each project is no longer discernible from the last and people switch off. Tempest has avoided both pitfalls perfectly, providing an album I’m sure will attract new heads whilst ensuring the existing fandom is pleased in the process, I whole-heartedly recommend that you check it out. 

8/10.

Tags: album review, indie, kae tempest, poetry, spoken word, the line is a curve

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