This is a difficult album to listen to. I should say so immediately. St Nick’s brilliant album of the month review of Five Leaves Left goes some way to explaining why:
Great art has the power to change us, or so they say. But sometimes with our favourite artists we find they have not changed us, but rather that they have acted as a mirror, reflecting back to us an undistorted image of ourselves. Five Leaves Left Review, St Nick
The Book of Traps and Lessons is the fourth studio album of spoken word poet and Ted Hughes Award winning writer Kate Tempest. What makes this so difficult to listen to, for me, is that it sheds light on the macro idiosyncrasies which form the base of our modern way of life. For example, the following passage in Keep Moving Don’t Move is particularly harrowing:
Stroke the phone screen with your thumb
Like a mother trying to wipe clean the face of her only child
That blemish, that black dot that will not come clean
The first sign of the plague
Absorb the ache of all your friends
And sleep with the light in your brain burning UV all night
Wake tired, eat bread, eat oranges, eat bus stops
Eat traffic jams, eat shoes, eat shop windows
Eat the chair you’re sitting on, eat the table
Eat the idea there was ever more than this
Eta the beer, eat the takeaway, eat the boredom, eat the breakup
Eat the phone she’s hasn’t called
Eat her ringtone six times, six times
And when she answers, eat the silence in your mouth
Eat the pillow, eat the blankets, eat the moon
Eat the screaming drunks, eat the bad dreams, wake up
Eat the alarm, remember to chew
Are you doing this, too?
Keep Moving Don’t Move – Kate Tempest
‘Absorb the ache of all your friends’ hit me squarely. This is partly why I got rid of social media. I cannot tell you how freeing it is not to be made aware of the minutiae of other people’s lives. My mind is uncluttered and free to focus on things of import. Equally, nobody ever knows where I am, which is a huge comfort. My previous obsession with updating my ‘story’ on Instagram to seem like a more wholesome and interesting person were a danger to my security. Letting the world know where you are at any given point (my account was not private) is quite unsafe if you think about it.
But… but but but we are not here to talk about my social media freedom. Kate Tempest’s album speaks about much more than obsession. All Humans Too Late for example considers the stark reality of the humanity wide crisis we have created and are steeped in right now.
But what’s to be done
When the only way to defend ourselves
From what we’ve created is to merge with it?
What can be done to stay human?
The racist is drunk on the train
The racist is drunk on the internet
The racist is drunk at my dinner table
Shouting his gun shots and killing us all
All Humans Too Late, Kate Tempest
Closer to home, Three Sided Coin speaks of the mess that the UK is in right now. And it is a frightful mess. I shan’t say any more than that for fear of stoking divisions in a time when unity would be far more productive. I’ll let Kate Tempest do the talking:
Now the distance between objects
Can be measured out in fractions
But the distance between people
Is a scale that we can’t balance
We’re frail, our hearts haven’t had time to try fathom
The scales of old dragons are nails in gold coffins
This island of England
Three Sided Coin, Kate Tempest
This album is difficult to hear. Matthew and I could not even get through the whole thing together, having to stop listening on the penultimate track. However, for those with a stronger stomach, please do listening to this stark and honest work. Kate Tempest has shown us a piece of her soul and in so doing, allowed us to see ourselves. Tremendous strength and ingenuity go into creating music which makes us take pause. A lot of what is released these days has no musical integrity. It is reflective of a desire to pander to the club goer or to be played by the musically uninterested masses and will soon be played at second flight parties alone or forgotten entirely. Kate Tempest’s work will remain relevant for some time. It is harrowing and deep, which is more than I can say for a lot of modern music.