The Book Of Traps And Lessons manages to be both deeply political and profoundly personal
WORDS BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS, IMAGE VIA INSTAGRAM
Kate Tempest is back, taking on a new sombre, intimate tone to bare her soul for album number four. Her live performances have always been masterful, and she manages the difficult transition from stage to studio seamlessly.
Tempest is best known for her spoken-word poetry, which has won her a Mercury prize and a Ted Hughes prize since storming onto the poetry scene. Her new 11-track collection tackles her concerns surrounding overpopulation, trolls, racism and the digital age, with the addition of personal moments that feel incredibly raw.
After hearing the two tracks Tempest released in the lead up to the new album, Firesmoke and Holy Elixir, I was intrigued to see how they would fit into the complete body of work that was to come.
They both felt so uncharacteristically confessional for Tempest’s music, in which she usually uses characters in order to express her feelings and themes. The Book of Traps and Lessons comes as a clear follow-up to her last book of poems, Running Upon the Wires, where she candidly opens up about her divorce and finding love again.
Tempest doesn’t hold back here. There is a yearning for a connection with the listener that runs throughout the album. She lingers and lets her voice tremble to form an emotional power at the right moments, letting the music sink down deeper into your skin as you listen.
There is a sense of restraint that gives her room to reach out gently without ever attacking with the same fury that carries her previous albums. Instead, Tempest uses an understated subtlety to fluidly transition between spoken word and rapped verse.
Rather than the hip-hop grooves of Let Them Eat Chaos, there is backing from delicate pianos, electronic beats, restrained melodies, and All Humans Too Late is eerily unaccompanied. Tempest’s clever lyrics and rhymes do the heavy lifting this time, but there is definitely a deceptive complexity to the simple sounds created alongside writing partner, Dan Carey and producer, Rick Rubin.
Firesmoke remains a standout track. She runs her fingers through the chaos of love in a tender moment soaked in queer expression. It is weaved perfectly into the album to remind us of how brilliantly queer she is, without letting it become political or the main focus of the album.
The Book of Traps and Lessons almost feels like it’s split into two parts: the deeply political and the deeply personal. There is an equal sense of urgency and sincerity which marries the two sides together effortlessly by the album’s hopeful ending.
Hold Your Own is a real highlight. With the same name as Tempest’s critically acclaimed 2014 book of poems, this is the track I was anticipating the most. There is a political message which leads the album into the more tender and intimate moments that follow.
Through the subtle synths and dreamlike lyrics this track bolsters the album up onto a new level – introducing a sense of optimism that starts to shine through.
Tempest feels alive and radical amidst all the uncertainty the album explores. As the album draws to a close, it is clear that there is a comforting hope for change which feels more mature and less defeated than Tempest’s previous albums.
The Book of Traps and Lessons yields more power with each listen – it is crammed so full with difficult truths that it begs to be listened to more than once. Find a quiet moment, close your eyes and let yourself sink into all the brutality and beauty The Book of Traps and Lessons has to offer.
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