“Now it’s love that soaks my heart / I contemplate the dark”
From recording and experimenting with sequencers at nights during his degree at Coventry University to a Mercury nominated debut album and a string of sold out live dates, to say that Ghostpoet’s (a.k.a. Obaro Ejimiwe’s) rise has been meteoric seems like an understatement. However, on his follow up album Ejimiwe handles the dizzying past few years of his life with resilience and humour, delivering an album that defied my initial expectations.
On Some Say I So I Say Light Ejimiwe’s recognisably soporific drawl remains intact, except now his delivery seems more focused and lucid with an energy behind it that has been honed by live performances. Meanwhile, the music has become even more minimalistic, tinged with eerie paranoia and a keen sense of uneasy self-awareness. Opener ‘Cold Win’ cautiously points out “I don’t know this place”, while ’12 Deaf’‘s disclosure that “Fear takes over me” sounds like it’s delivered from the extreme depths and pressures of a submarine. The voice and music paired together are still evocative of the creaking floorboards and trickling water pipes of streets and tenement buildings. However, Ejimiwe seems more pessimistic here, or maybe not so much pessimistic as dragged down and more accustomed to everyday pressures and grime than he was previously. He is constantly waiting on trains that never seem to arrive while staring out to sea, watching out for dark clouds on the horizon. The smouldering and brooding atmosphere palpable throughout the album is comparable to Massive Attack’s Mezzanine or Tricky’s Maxinquaye.
Moments of lightness and optimism occasionally punctuate the gloom: ‘Dorsal Morsel’ sees Ejimiwe “revel in the elegance that only night can bring” while ‘Plastic Bag Brain’ is driven by an idiosyncratically skewed guitar melody. Lead single ‘Meltdown’ is a bittersweet depiction of a dissolving relationship and is probably one of the truest break-up songs I’ve ever heard. The vocal interplay between Ejimiwe’s conversational outpouring and the yearning crooning of Woodpecker Wooliams (who also appears on ‘Dial Tones’) makes ‘Meltdown’ both mournful and uplifting at the same time. ‘Sloth Trot’ is the album’s heart, beating at a barely audible rate. Ejimiwe’s meditative vocals search through an inertia-inducing gulf of synths and echoed samples. “Is this all there is? / I’m not sure”, he ambivalently observes as a delay-laden guitar sound punctuates the haze before fading into the distance like a far-off train. Towards the end the track descends into a disorienting squall of wailing guitar, drums and clipped vocal samples.
While the minimalist approach does focus attention on Obaro’s voice, unfortunately it does mean that some songs tend to sound similar after a while. For sure, each song has character and collected together they evoke an enigmatic and nocturnal urban atmosphere, but the album does tend towards uniformity. In effect, Some Say I So I Say Light feels like Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam Pt.2. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since Peanut Butter Blues is a stunningly vivid portrayal of urban living in contemporary Britain. Rather than moving into different territory, Ejimiwe has chosen to dig deeper and explore the darker corners and heavier aspects of this area. It is as if we have followed him down the garden path which he warned us away from on Peanut Butter Blues.
Ultimately it is Ejimiwe’s naturalistic yet affable personality which really shines through and carries the album. You identify with him and, just as with Peanut Butter Blues, while things may not be at their best he’s trying anyway. At the end of the album, ‘Comatose’s affirmative assertion “I feel”, repeated amongst awakening synths and majestic strings that lift the mood, promises a brighter morning once this long night has passed.
Some Say I So I Say Light is available now through Play It Again Sam.