Kate Tempest’s new record The Book of Traps and Lessons feels like one of the most important artistic and political statements out in the ether today.
Not one to shy away from tough topics or fear speaking her peace or shirk the weight of a storyteller’s responsibility to hold good and evil, truth and falsehoods in close companionship, Tempest focuses her angst, intellect, philosophizing, and fury on everything that — in the quiet moments of the day or night — unsettles you too. Rising authoritarianism. Massive economic and social inequity. The foreboding of feeling trapped in a system you don’t have access to or even a handle on. Humanity outpacing the world’s resources. Climate change. An age of technological advancement and social disconnect. The sense that things are deeply, fundamentally flawed.
Aching legs, pounding head~Three Sided Coin
I can’t wait for the weekend
I’m staying in bed
In the mouth of a breaking wave
In the mouth of a breaking storm
Shaken, thinking something is coming
The sky’s an unusual colour
The weather is doing unusual things
And our leaders aren’t even pretending not to be demons
So where is the good heart to go but inwards?
Why not lock all the doors and bolt all the windows?
All I am are my doubts and suspicions
I against you against we against them
This is how it begins
And this is how it will end.
As I listen to this record, I am in awe of how much Tempest’s sharp poetry and intricate wordplay speak to that part of me — deep inside my head and in my gut — that wrestles with the great questions of our time. I relish in the places this record takes me because it feels like I am engaged in a dialogue at the root of things. How do we make it through all of this?
Holy Elixir is a standout track for me because it displays Tempest’s expansive imagery, the complexity and directness of her poetry, and the musicianship that deepens the impact of her words. She levels-up her patented blend of spoken-word/hip-hop fusion, creating a pulsating, atmospheric soundtrack with rich, dank electronic beats and stripped-down, piano and string arrangements.
There are no answers here. But, Tempest’s way of articulating her own questions and of naming what we are facing feels galvanizing. I am not buried in despair; not buoyed by hope. Rather, I am steeled for the fight. And, for joining in common cause with those who listen to this album and nod their heads to the rhythms and the rhymes of an artist who is looking behind the curtain of the world around us.
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