There’s a sense of foreboding from the very first note of Ghostpoet‘s fourth album – the distorted vocals and incessant drum machine beats of One More Sip serve notice that, if these times are as turbulent and uncertain as they seem to be, then Dark Days + Canapés is its suitably bleak soundtrack.
Just one look at the tracklisting will give an indication of what sort of mindset Obaro Ejimiwe is in at the moment – End Times, Trouble + Me, Woe Is Meee are just three examples of the song titles collected here. It’s a feeling amplified by the music, a dark, muggy collection of songs that sometimes can feel a bit claustrophobic in their unrelenting darkness.
There’s a touch of Mezzanine-era Massive Attack in Ejimiwe’s dense soundscapes, with a similarly hazy feel in how producer Leo Abrahams uses the guitar, strings and piano. It all meshes beautifully with Ejimiwe’s beautifully laidback drawl, whether he be describing a refugee’s tragic journey in Immigrant Boogie or the effect of the constant barrage of social media and rampant commercialism on everyday life in Freakshow (“so I swiped left and figured out it’s a freakshow”).
Dopamine If I Do may feature a slightly cringeworthy play on words in the title, but it’s one of the most affecting songs on the album, a duet with Norwegian singer EERA whose vocals blend perfectly with Ejimiwe’s soft drawl and Abrahams’ sweeping string arrangements. As usual with Ghostpoet though, it’s the lyrics that leave the strongest impression – a mediation on social alienation, despite being ever more connected online. As Ejimiwe puts it: “Instagram your foes, I do that a lot… maybe in time you’ll tell me why you walk the earth all alone”.
Trouble + Me has a similarly self-examining feel to it, a majestically ebbing and flowing number that nods hugely to Jonny Greenwood‘s guitar riff on Radiohead‘s Street Spirit (Fade Out) and uses Charlotte Hatherley on backing vocals to spine-tingling effect, while Live > Leave also recalls Thom Yorke and company in its chiming guitar chords.
Even better is the harrowing Immigrant Boogie, which almost snarls from its opening riff and goes on to tell a story from the point of view of a refugee travelling from his country – lines like “I was dreaming of a better life, with my two kids and my lovely wife but I can’t swim and water’s in my lungs, so here it ends, well, life has just begun” make this one of the year’s more important songs, given the current political climate.
If there’s a criticism to be had, it’s that the constant bleakness becomes almost a bit oppressive – in previous Ghostpoet albums, there was always a lightness of touch and moments of joy, but on Dark Days + Canapés, the sense of darkness becomes a bit wearisome. Yet, come the end of the year, this will no doubt be held up as one of the albums that held a mirror to its times. It also confirms Ejimiwe as one of this country’s most vital voices.