October 7th- Kate Tempest- Let Them Eat Chaos

Like only a handful of others before her; Bob Dylan, The Streets and Saul Williams, Kate Tempest blurs the line between poet and musician, this was put to brilliant effect on her acclaimed debut album Everybody Down and is once again in evidence here on Let Them Eat Chaos.

Part of what makes Tempest’s work so enjoyable is her ability to tell a story and maintain a cohesive narrative, all too regularly failing at one of these is the downfall of a concept album. But with concept album number 2 under her belt it is clear for Kate this isn’t a problem. Let Them Eat Chaos opens with two tracks which paint the scene and setting for the story we are to bear witness to, the setting being London in the here and now and more specifically a street familiar to the everyman. Let Them Eat Chaos is the story of the common man and woman in a socially and personally chaotic time. More than this it is the story of how our individual dramas often prevent us from seeing the impending greater storm that is just around the corner, in the case of Let Them Eat Chaos the storm is one of social disorder, xenophobia, the banking crisis and political corruption.

Each track on Let Them Eat Chaos tells the individual story of a character suffering with personal strife whether that be dissatisfaction, grief, love, loss, work, drink and drugs etc each character is awake at 4.18am traumatised in some respect by the thoughts of their own lives. Tempest tells each tale compassionately and passionately leaving the listener with the thought that there’s a little bit of me in each one of these people. Relatability really is one of the triumphs of Let Them Eat Chaos, the events and stories told will resonate with almost any millennial out there. Tempest has adopted an omnipresent approach to her generation looking at its problems from above and then sketching them out with stunning lyrical dexterity for all to observe.  Of course this is partially the point of Let The Eat Chaos to show that we are not alone in our problems and that even within difficulties there exists commonality.

The final track of Let Them Eat Chaos sees a literal and figurative storm break and each of our 7 characters leaving their various houses to observe the spectacle. Tempest is of course stating very clearly for the listener that sometimes despite our problems there is a greater storm which unites us. The imagery used is beautiful and her point is adeptly made. Adding further strength is the fact that Tempest doesn’t offer the listener any solutions to the various problems on show, this is not preaching to the choir but a state of the nation address. Let Them Eat Chaos says here we are, this is my strife and this is our society. The effect is refreshing in a time where every other musician is saying who you should vote for, who you should save, what celebrity is it and who is not, instead telling you how to think Tempest has painted an overview and left the choice up to you (though an awareness exists of what Kate thinks too).

Let Them Eat Chaos is a brilliant and complex piece of story-telling which only further cements Kate Tempest’s position as a reluctant voice of her confused, lost, embittered and embattled millennial generation.

 

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September 30th- Bon Iver- 22, A Million

Ever since 1965 when Bob Dylan plugged in his guitar to an amp and went electric folk musicians have sought various ways to explore and expand their sound and audience through the use of electronics. Bright Eyes did this huge acclaim on his Digital Ash in a Digital Urn LP and more recently Laura Marling has also ditched the acoustic guitar for one with a power supply. The extension of folk going electric has also run to rock, with Radiohead infamously changing their sound with the release of Kid A, and more recently to hip hop, with Kanye West’s Yeezus taking on industrial techno. Bon Iver’s 22, A Million owes a lot to all of these releases in its change of direction and artistic vision but perhaps most greatly it is indebted to the last release, as the vocal and production styles of Justin Vernon’s close friend Yeezy are a very strong influence on 22, A Million.

All of the above highlights clearly that those who purchase a copy of 22, A Million expecting the delicate folk of Bon Iver’s debut LP are going to be disappointed. There are elements of delicate folk and that stunning icy high pitched voice appearing on tracks like 00000 Million but even here a sample of Fionn Regan echoes across parts of the track adding something different to what has gone before. This referencing of contemporary folk artists occurs in other places as on track 4 where Bon Iver samples Paulo Nutini, it almost feels as if when reverting to the folk of old Bon Iver still wishes to cut n paste to express.

22, A Million treads a different path from what has gone before it and is littered with samples, vocoder and synth, which is coupled effectively with the folk that made Bon Iver an international success. At points the fracturing and confrontational style becomes difficult for the listener but in a very good way, a way, which in fact is again very comparable to Kanye West’s Yeezus. The first two tracks of 22, A Million conform almost whole heartedly to this stylistic and confrontational change, so much so, that in fact when some acoustic guitar and non-mechanised vocals appear on track 5 they act as a form of welcome relief.

Bon Iver is with 22, A Million challenging his listener to explore something else. To explore a more fractured sound in a more fractured world, he is confronting what folk can and should be in a post-modern world permeated by technology and the results are staggeringly effective. Track 3 is a perfect example of this: It’s a folk love song fed through a brutal vocal effects machine, to the point whereby it sounds like a robot voice from a Kanye West nightmare, yet with the story telling lyricism and heart ache roots the track contains many folk elements.

Bon Iver has always painted a dark and tortured picture of the world on his LPs often portraying emotional and personal turmoil and 22, A Million does feel similar in this vein. Yet even when plumbing the depths of darkness, as he does here, Justin Vernon finds beauty and despite being as dark as the night 22, A Million is as beautiful as the moment you spot the light of the first visible star.

Like those that went before him Justin Vernon has successfully changed his style and with 22, A Million is a very worthy contender for album of the year.