Dark Days + Canapés by GhostpoetRelease date: August 18, 2017
Label: Play It Again Sam
It’s always exciting to see hear new material from an artist in the ascendant, and anything Ghostpoet does was always going to be high on my wish list. The voice gets me every time, and the combination of his rich tones and the dark vibes of his music make for a thrilling proposition. This is his fourth album, and his back catalogue charts a journey from MC backed by electro beats to full-fledged songwriter who has worked with the likes of Nadine Shah and Massive Attack. Ghostpoet is Obaro Ejimiwe and he has a voice of gold.
The hook that got me into Ghostpoet in the first place was the voice. His laconic, understated drawl is unique. It’s laid back to the point of being horizontal, yet it’s somehow urgent as well. It flows like quicksilver around the music. At times words are almost spoken but not quite. It fits the songs perfectly. Lyrically it’s introspective, searching, unsettled. There are touches of Tricky, but with none of the confrontational, acerbic attitude of Tricky’s delivery. There’s also the introspection of Gil Scott-Heron’s later work, but none of the regret.
Dark Days + Canapés starts with a glitchy intro, with its Aloof-style wistfulness, that sets the mood with an undercurrent of tension before the album gets going proper with ‘Many Moods At Midnight’. Lyrically it sounds like a plea to a lover: “Let’s stay together, I’m down on my knees”, underpinned by edgy piano. Musically Ghostpoet has moved away from his past solely electronic sound to a full band. Guitars feature large, often an echoey picked melody as on the catchy ‘Trouble + Me’, and the sound is very mature. It’s dark but with glimmers of light, it’s poppy but not pop, it’s indie but not jangly, it’s trip-hoppy without mimicking the Bristol sound. Repeated listens reveal previously unheard melodies, hidden hooks, and the result is that it grows hugely with each spin.
Anti-consumerism single ‘Freakshow’, with its line “Ain’t left the city in weeks, I guess Westfield knows what I want” is funky, catchy and laid back all at the same time. There’s a nod to the 80s on next track ‘Dopamine If I Do’, with violins and soulful female co-vocalist, and later ‘Karoshi’ also carries with it an 80s electro sound, with an OMD vibe.
One of the strengths of the album is that it’s not front-loaded. The tracks are strong to the very end. After the quiet ‘Dopamine…’, ‘Live>Leave’ has an upbeat tone with echoey piano underpinned by solid bass. There’s a distinct hint of recent work by Mark Lanegan in the sound and it made me wonder: how amazing would it be for these two to work together?
The hauntingly dark ‘Immigrant Boogie’ is poignantly about the refugee crisis in Europe (“No-one knows how many on the boat”… “We don’t bite, let us in”) and the subject is mirrored perfectly by the rumbling guitar riff. ‘Woe I Meee’ shows a humorous side, the cheeky title matched by a string bend from the guitarist that adds just enough jauntiness to the guitar refrain. A familiar guest vocalist in the form of Massive Attack’s Daddy G carries this track along, too. Final track ‘End Times’ starts by bookending the album with a glitchy outro to match the equally scratchy intro, and as it builds it makes for an uneasy conclusion.
The result is a gorgeous album. The listener is left with a perfectly formed set of songs that will plant its hooks deeper with each play. It’s dark without bringing the listener down, has a great richness and variety that shows the development of an exciting artist who is still in the ascendant. Its themes show a songwriter who looks inward but also increasingly out at an uncertain world. It takes a heritage of trip hop, pop and indie, plus skilful song writing, and melds them into an exciting and uplifting prospect for 2017.