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There's an abrupt start and we've landed in the middle of a wrap party for some (presumably) East London hipster band. Over by the bar the Nathan Barley-esque Marshall Law is "wanking on about his artwork". Amidst the posers and hangers on two people meet for the first time - Becky, the cynical student who danced in the video and Harry, a shy guy who after a few drinks finds himself detailing all of his future plans to this girl who is looking for a quick exit. Amidst the aggressive strobe lighting, hipster pretension and other sycophants there's a glimmer of real life. Harry has high hopes, but it's quickly clear to Becky (and to us) that he's trapped in a cycle loneliness and fantasy.

'Marshall Law' the opening track on Everybody Down is in one sense a prologue to the rest of Kate Tempest's latest album, introducing the listener to two of the album's key protagonists. Whilst ostensibly a rap record, Everybody Down is essentially a single narrative told through twelve chapters (each one being a track on the record). Tempest is perhaps best known for her performance poetry (Brand New Ancients won the Ted Hughes Poetry Prize) and whilst there are similarities between that work in Tempest's delivery and tendency to inhabit different characters, this record brings in much more of an influence from hip-hop, particularly London based scenes like grime.

If 'Marshall Law' is the prologue, then 'The Truth' is the album's theme song, exposing the key thematic ideas of Everybody Down. "Love in a time of adversity" is how Tempest's narrator describes it and over the course of the album the various characters - Becky, Harry, Pete and more - are all revealed to be trapped in some way, desperate to break free and make something of themselves, whilst wondering if finding love will help them through. 'The Truth' also serves as a piece of meta-narrative as it's also the track recorded by the pretentious hipster band from 'Marshall Law' played over the radio in the taxi that's taking Becky and her friends home.

Both tracks help to introduce new listeners to Tempest's vocal style. Her cadence is distinct when compared to other rap artists, the style closer to the delivery of poetry as she modifies her voice to reflect the different characters - Harry's passionate whisper, Pete's awkward attempts to find employment and negotiate a relationship. There's also a clarity to the vocals that's often missing from rap, part of this is down to the production which pitches Tempest at the forefront, but is also down to the delivery which ensures that the narrative is communicated clearly, not just through lyrics, but also vocal inflections and accent.

That's not to say that the lyrics aren't sometimes a little lost among the backing. On some of the more up-tempo tracks, particularly the ones that utilise harder beats, the backing can overwhelm Tempest's voice and on headphones the two can merge into one vague sound. For the most part the production keeps everything in check, but tracks like 'Circles' and 'Happy End' lose a lot of their message when the lyrics become harder to discern.

Everybody Down plays with a range of styles, the sounds often tailored to fit the moment of the story. 'Marshall Law' is the sound of an East London nightclub, dark wave synthesisers and pounding beats, whilst 'Lonely Daze' melds looped blues guitar and electric drums under lyrics of youth disenfranchisement. As the story moves to the club the backing introduces dub step style bass swells as the sounds of the characters world bleed into the track. This variety leads to some interesting blink and you'll miss it moments - Pete's moan of "no, no, no" as he misses his chance to talk to Becky or the stuttering electronics as Tempest references a night club's strobe lights. They result in a far more visceral experience, bringing the listener into the world of Tempest's narrative.

'Chicken' is a great example of this. After three tracks of largely dance and hip-hop influenced beats, the album takes a distinctly down-tempo turn as we're shown Harry's home-life and his growing resentment of his mother's boyfriend David, described as having "a face like a pill head at the end of a rave". The backing is doom-laden atmospherics and a beat like that of a pulse. It's almost as though we inhabit the head of Harry, the blood boiling in his veins as he tries to keep himself composed, whilst this insidious individual tries to make small talk.

Elsewhere on the record there's the jangly indie guitar of 'Beigeness', surely a hint at the posturing and lack of emotion common in modern guitar rock, the menacing industrial beat of 'Stink' and the downtempo electronica of 'Theme From Becky'. Each song feels like a separate entity thanks to this variation, but there is a clear hip-hop influence on the beats, even on tracks that take cues from indie or spoken word. The key melodies feel sampled, whilst the percussion shuffles along. In many ways the overall sound recalls that of Ghostpoet, whilst lyrically (and thematically) there are hints of Kendrick Lamar's good kid m.A.A.d city. 'The Heist', one of Everybody Down's best tracks is a spiritual cousin to Lamar's 'The Art of Peer Pressure'. Over an off-kilter, melancholic industrial beat Tempest details Harry and his friend Leon's attempt to scam a supplier. Surprisingly, for one of the quietest tracks on the album, 'The Heist' ends in an act of violence that takes the album's narrative in a much darker direction.

Everybody Down is unremittingly bleak, and this makes for a difficult listen. Every character is trapped in a downward spiral; most of them a matter of circumstance rather their own doing. Harry's need for money has led to him dealing drugs in the City, pushing away his friends and finally becoming a wanted man. Ron, a dealer's heavy, is trapped by debts he is working to pay off, hoping that he'll be able to get out and eventually find a way to clear the blood off his hands. Pete and Becky are trapped in a lack of opportunity. Pete, a graduate, is unemployed and being put forward for placements in Primark, whilst Becky is working two jobs to get through university. Both are victims of what's already been referred to as the 'lost generation' with mounting student debts and a lack of adequately paid post-grad work. Whilst Tempest's narrative does take flights of fancy ('The Heist's central meeting takes place around a shark tank) the character's circumstances are grounded in the harsh reality of 2014 where personal debt continues to rise, zero-hour contracts are tolerated and the city gets richer - as Harry remarks at one point, "meant to be hard times, right / a recession / but these guys are buying more than ever / I reckon." Yet Tempest never becomes preachy - she doesn't take the opportunity to attack government policy, rather she focuses on the characters' turmoil.

Some might think that this means the album lacks a political edge, an edge that seems to be missing in a lot of modern music, but it's worth remembering how high political apathy is amongst the young and the unemployed. Tempest's characters are not necessarily political people; they are aware they are victims of a power structure that they'll never have any influence over, but there is a sense of distance between their daily lives and politics. They are likely the people who taking a passing interest in the news, but see it as being focused on preserving the status quo and supporting big business.

As Everybody Down progresses the beats get heavier and darker, culminating in 'Happy End' which brings all of the characters together to celebrate Pete's birthday. The spluttering beat like a buzz saw is all encompassing and is perhaps the record's most ominous moment as Harry comes face to face with the man who's tasked himself with taking Harry in for the murder at the end of 'The Heist'. In many ways the album does kind of have a happy ending in the way it brings Harry and Becky's story full circle, but this runs counter to a scene of violence between the other men of the story whose various grievances erupt in the middle of the party. The fact that Tempest offers very little in the way of hope (the rest of the album's tale has been one of disaster so to believe any happy ending will last is naive at best) is representative of her bold story-telling, but it also means that through heavy beats and dispiriting lyrics, this is a tough album to get through in one piece. It's almost certainly worth your attention though because Kate Tempest is an artist with a talent that is rare these days. She has an ability to craft relatable tales, almost like the old folk tales that featured heavily in early blues and rock music and were continued by the likes of Gil Scott-Heron and Tom Waits, that never patronise the audience and offer a glimpse at life down at the base level of society.

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