Thursday, June 6th, 2019

Kate Tempest – Firesmoke

We finish up Sorta-Kinda-Adjacent-to-Rap Wednesday with a spoken-word artist we’ve liked more before…


Katherine St Asaph: Maybe this would work for me if the lyrics made me feel bloom and swoon, but let’s just say that I’m really feeling Róisín Murphy’s “Incapable” lately and leave it at that. Probably, though, it’s that “Circles” was also a compelling song, not a soft-jazz loop that reminds you why “coffeeshop music” became a cliche.

Tim de Reuse: It seems a shame to hide such prickly, erotic imagery behind such sleek, aerodynamic presentation. The background loop is aggressively unobtrusive, filling space with a pleasant nothing like the stock music behind a 30-second cologne advertisement, and the delivery is on far too much of an even keel to communicate any emotional risk. A deeply personal work, to be sure, but delivered in a manner that cares more about asserting itself as Serious Art than being vulnerable.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This is so sophisticated and erudite that I want to roll my eyes at it, but Tempest’s aching and honest words of love hit so viscerally that “Firesmoke” overcomes itself.

Nortey Dowuona: Warm, full piano chords waft over soft drums as Kate gently, patiently, and happily describes the love she feels for her partner.

Alfred Soto: Blessed with the quavering nervousness of a Mike Leigh character, Kate Tempest should front a Mekons performance. “Firesmoke” is smoke, no fire. 

Isabel Cole: If I’m being generous I can see how performing a love poem with the cadence and animation of an eighth grader trying to remember their blocking during the school play could theoretically play interestingly with the passion and drama of the lyrics, but in practice it just makes the most overwrought lines feel ripped out of an eighth grader’s back-row notebook scribbles (“let me untangle the madness that knots you”). In an alternate universe I’m hitting repeat on the Lorde song containing the plaintive hugeness of “there is something in this tenderness that makes me want to live,” but here there’s no tenderness, no wanting, no life to be heard.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Firesmoke” is more enjoyable to read than to hear. Still, the instrumentation is befittingly nondescript, and the focus is strictly on Tempest’s increasingly assured voice. The loop ebbs and flows, creating a soothing backdrop to a love poem that finds a real sense of completion and joy in its final lines. This is a song that goes down smooth, and unintrusive enough to keep on repeat: perhaps the highest praise for a song about an undramatized–but very real–affection that makes every day just a little brighter.

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