Ghostpoet needs to pull off a pretty big personal best to match the success of his 2011 debut studio album Peanut Butter Blues And Melancholy Jam, which was nominated for that year’s Mercury Music Prize. Taken at face value, the follow-up Some Say I So I Say Light poses something of a conundrum for easily documenting a journey of progression from A to B. Yet Obaro Ejimiwe has somehow evolved while staying the same. On this album he proves that he’s become more finely tuned, confident and self-assured; comfortable in bettering his own, inimitable genre species.
With sleights of hand he seamlessly rebirths signature techniques that have, so far, given him his identity, eliminating inexperienced scratchiness and replacing it with more purposeful touches of the very same; shedding some starkness, but keeping vital stylistic bleakness; tightening production, while retaining the same sonic looseness that punctuates sound with space. Peanut Butter Blues was altogether more experimental, produced within bedroom confines, but the new album has been given the studio treatment, co-produced with Richard Formby, who has worked with Wild Beasts and Egyptian Hip-Hop.
Despite his success, Ghostpoet is still firmly grounded in reality, his lyrical trickery remaining centred in social comment and life’s gripes and graces. His self-assured delivery sets the new material apart. Dark, muffled old-school garage beats and a foreboding trumpet are a sufficiently bleak prefix for Cold Win’s lines about humdrum Film Four Tuesdays and Double Dutch kiddies waiting for a chicken fix. An insistent synth loop and echoes, claps and knocking objects generate a stifling atmosphere to prepare the way for his wordsmith wizardry: “Thoughts come regular but I’m wearing a large. Maybe I’ll just XL it, wrap it up and sell it.” Both tracks collapse in on themselves, as if exasperated with the state of things – the former sonically unravelling with brassy balloons exhaling air.
Metaphors compare red eyes with brake lights, and find jam jars full of past pain. They skirt around subject matter on Dial Tones, which proves to be perfect fodder for Lucy Rose‘s vulnerable vocals. And Dorsal Morsal is exasperated with Pringles packets and spending too much on Amazon – a u-turn of sorts for the album where lo-fi notes offer a slice of sun-kissed warmth. The vocals of Gwilym Gold are generous with warmth, giving the track a sense of Joe Goddard’s more contemplative moments hitting on 6am euphorias.
Perhaps the most loose-sounding track of the collection is Plastic Bag Brain, which firmly stamps the feel of studio production with its instrumentals. With Tony Allen on drums and The Invisible’s Dave Okumu on guitar, its meandering post rock is a showpiece for Ejimiwe’s versatility across the album.
As a whole, the mood is no less dark and brooding, but it is shrouded in different guises such as the glitch-heavy, Aphex Twin-ish MSI Musmid and trippy, slow burning Sloth Trot, while Meltdown starts where Peanut Butter Blues signed off, echoing Liiines’ rhythmic sensibilities. Here, as with so many of the tracks, the experience of hearing the album feels close-up and in-studio, as if dipped into immersive lyrics and live-sounding instrumentals. And while Ghostpoet prefers his fragmented sounds, this is what gives it edge, captivating through its unpredictability and lyrical descriptiveness.
It’s also a relief to see just as much of an emphatic full stop afforded to Some Say I. Comatose reflects its name with a dubby bassline and lyrical slurrings, before pulling everything apart with an electronic breakdown that is exquisitely contrasted by a string section that brings order to the chaos.
The real mastery here is that it is impossible not to be plunged head first into Some Say I, and, just as with Ejimiwe’s live performances, become utterly rooted to the spot. As ever, he bleeds charisma through his music. While Ghostpoet will never be considered an easily accessible artist, this is the enigmatic follow up we’d hardly dared hope for.