Kate Tempest is a prolific and multi-faceted wielder of words and, in a career already more than a decade old at her young age, has proven her skill through frequent collaborations with highly-lauded organizations like Yale University and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the release of numerous poetry collections including the Ted Hughes Award-winning Brand New Ancients. On ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’, she returns to the world of conscious hip-hop to paint our world in muted colors and stark realism, employing a range of styles from calm spoken word poetry to snarling, high-energy hip-hop.
Tempest makes no secret of the struggling, profit-driven Western society in which we live. Gentrification, existential crises, inadequacy, class warfare, consumerism; no stone is left unturned in her exploration of humanity. She moves in effortless waves between micro and macro perspectives on these issues, combining her life and outlook with a parallel storyline of seven people woven throughout. The opening spoken-word track, ‘Picture A Vacuum’, first forces listeners to consider the vastness of the universe before zooming in to show us our little Earth as a concerned mother, smiling, “or is it a tremor of dread? The sadness of mothers as they watch the fates of their children unfold.” Tempest conveys a sense that the universe is disappointed in the mess that we’ve made of ourselves, a mess that she adeptly elaborates on as the album progresses. In ‘Lionmouth Door Knocker’, following a stream of conscious neighborhood tour, Tempest sets the stage for the story concept. ‘Ketamine For Breakfast’, gives us a little backstory on Kate herself through the character Gemma. “Before I was an adult, I was a little wreck”, she spits, matter-of-factly exposing the “ghost” of her past in no uncertain terms. On ‘Europe Is Lost’, a Raymond Carver-esque portrait of a woman named Esther draws the scope outward to a unforgiving critique of society’s consumerist escapism, saying in a facetious back-and-forth, “Stop crying, start buying (but what about the oil spills?) Shh, nobody likes a party pooper spoil sport.” The strength of Tempest’s wordplay is that it’s not weighed down by symbol and simile for its own sake, but rather it serves her knack for description. She places herself on both sides of a conversation from line to line to demonstrate her point, to show rather than tell.
Musically, the beats, like in ‘Don’t Fall In’, are reminiscent of other hyper-intelligent hip-hop artists like Aesop Rock, but they sometimes fall short of offering much more than a foothold for Tempest’s formidable delivery. While the record is conceptually and lyrically airtight, the beats are at times jarring and distracting (‘Whoops’, especially), and the most profound moments tend to be those where the music takes a backseat to serve as atmosphere like with ‘Pictures On A Screen’, allowing Tempest’s true talent to take center stage. In the latter, the mood softens and becomes confessional. Tempest laments, “I know I exist but I don’t feel a thing, I’m eclipsed, I’m elsewhere, and the worst part is I don’t think that I care.” For the introverted, this track hits hard, and Tempest beautifully illustrates a feeling of distance from the world around us by continuing the recurring themes of sleep and dreaming. ‘We Die’ is another perfect example of Kate getting personal, written like a conversation with a lost loved one, saying “You’re with me all the time, I think I know you better than when we were hanging out together, what’s it like where you’ve gone?” The tremble of heartache in her voice is noticeable, on this line especially, and it only serves to drive home her diary of loss. ‘Breaks’ wraps up the storyline of seven characters present throughout the album which Tempest brings together in dramatic crescendo: “So here is our moment, frozen, we’ve seen our seven unmoving in their lonely homes, it’s been 4:18, and dawn’s still hours off yet.” On ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’, Kate Tempest deploys her language like a missile to force us into seeing the world with the blinders off, as in the exquisite ‘Tunnel Vision’. This final track summarizes her frustration in a flurry of slant-rhymes, and with escalating fury implores us to engage with the world. She pleads for us to “wake up and love more.”, but “The myth of the individual has left us disconnected, lost, and pitiful.”
While there are very occasional weak points (the latter half of ‘Perfect Coffee’ is a considerable departure from her usual relentless rhythm), Kate Tempest’s ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ is a profound and cohesive sophomore effort from the poet. The record rewards, if not necessitates, multiple listens in order to fully comprehend and appreciate Tempest’s visionary illustrations of a dire modern world. Kate and her new record are politically charged, socially conscious, and self-aware. There’s a sense of urgency. Kate wants to pry open our hearts to let the within love flow freely, to bring out our humanist side and do away with distraction. If the nightly news is any indication, then by God, we need it now more than ever, and Kate is doing her part with expert skill.