South-East London wordsmith Kate Tempest returns for her anticipated follow-up to 2014’s acclaimed and Mercury Prize nominated Everybody Down. Her musical debut caught the attention of many with its very delicate stylistic balance between hip-hop and spoken word, the story it told and the intriguing instrumentals.
This new project explores lyrical themes of existentialism and dystopia interspersed with separate very short stories. These themes are complimented with the usual mostly synthetic and experimental instrumentals. The ‘short stories’ discuss the personal situations of seven individual Londoners and what they’re doing in their respective houses at 4:18 AM. On the final tracks, the characters all come out into the street and meet each other.
The opening track ‘Picture A Vacuum’ – along with some of the interlude tracks – is quite minimalist while Kate tells a story of one travelling through our Solar System to London. Tracks like ‘Whoops’, ‘We Die’ and ‘Grubby’ definitely channel elements of IDM and experimental with their polyrhythmic syncopated beats and chromatic melodies, possible drawing influence from the likes of Aphex Twin or John Hopkins. There’s also an industrial feel coming through, with droning distorted synths and sharp hi-hats on tracks such as ‘Ketamine for Breakfast’, ‘Perfect Coffee’ and the album’s concluding tracks.
‘Europe is Lost’ – unlikely to be a European Union lament as the song was written in 2015 – takes a more political tone as Kate frustrates about people’s supposed lack of awareness about the world’s problems. The song – along with most of Kate’s other political songs – was a little cliché and ‘preachy’ neither did it come off so well as Kate spoke so generically about problems with no solutions except “love”. It’s political outlooks like this that disincline me to take political music seriously.
In conclusion, this is a solid and decent release for Kate Tempest. Though it won’t necessarily challenge her audience, it will certainly be challenging for hip-hop traditionalists with its vocal style and production.