Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin

Ghostpoet – Concorde 2
Photo by Ben Walker

I first saw Ghostpoet (aka Obaro Ejimiwe) playing on the 2011 Mercury Prize awards show, doing a tremendous version of his debut single ‘Cash & Carry Me Home’. Unfortunately for him 2011 was an exceptionally strong year for albums, losing out to Let England Shake by PJ Harvey, but it did put me onto his distinctively urban sound and persuaded me to buy his first album Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam. Ghostpoet’s second album, ‘Some Say I So I Say Light’ (2013), was just as well received being a more of an electronic affair. Shedding Skin is his third album and it continues with themes of relationships, ageing, identity, society and disillusion, with a helpful input from an assortment of guest vocalists.

From the first moment of ‘Off Peak Dreams’, you know this is far more than a Hip-Hop album full of samples and breaks. Hearing a rattling tambourine, off beat drums, and a stumbling bass – it is as if the band have just picked up their instruments before they are about to go into the first song. Before you know it the band come together following the constant piano chords. The song ends with a guitar solo with a futuristic sound effect over the top, adding to the disjointed message of life the song asserts. This is a stupidly good opening track that sets the bar high for the rest of the album. ‘X Marks The Spot’ features beautiful backing vocals from Nadine Shah, which run the risk of being over looked as Obaro’s voice commands all the attention in this suitably mellow track. Definitely an early favourite. A monotonous guitar starts ‘Be Right Back, Moving Home’. The soul searching ballad feature affirming strings and understated backing vocals from Maximo Park’s Paul Smith. Obaro’s lyrics prevail, mainly due to the way his rapping style acts like a unique spoken commentary of thought.

‘Shedding Skin’ is about the loneliness of being homeless. It takes the dark and jazzy undertones of Melanie De Biasio’s influence, who is singing backing vocals, creating a minimal and moody song that subtly intensifies. But, for all it is a great song, it doesn’t fill its potential in what could have been the standout collaboration on the album. ‘Yes, I Helped You Pack’, featuring mirrored vocals from Etta Bond, is about a sinking relationship. It starts off talking about the love they had before the fights, and then the song gains layers of sounds as the lyrics become more angered, getting more intense and disjointed until the song and relationship ends. Nadine Shah sings the chorus on the downtempo ‘That Ring Down The Drain Kind Of’. This psyched out song about heartache features a Hammond organ, psychedelic reverb and a distorted guitar solo. It one of the most interesting songs on the album and strays away from the usual sound so far.

‘Sorry My Love, It’s You Not Me’ is perhaps my least favourite on the album. It does have a beautiful backing beat with quaint vocals from Lucy Rose, but “It’s just you’re forgettable…” as the song quotes. That is its problem, it is far too safe and mundane. Back to the norm with ‘Better Not Butter’, which keeps the listener on the edge throughout. A driving drum line and sustained guitar make this an epic. ‘The Pleasure In Pleather’ has a dark heavy rock sound, that is the lis east easy on the ear, but is held together by Obaro’s faultless flow. Calm piano and ethereal synths bring the album to a close in ‘Nothing In The Way’. It is an uplifting finish to an album that has mostly dealt with bleak melancholic subjects.

My favourite tracks off Shedding Skin are ‘Yes, I Helped You Pack’ and ‘The Ring Down The Drain Kind Of’, which has cleverly thought out production and shows a more psychedelic side to Ghostpoet’s music. My major gripe on the album is that Obaro’s voice tends to overhang after each word, almost like he’s whining the lyrics out. I only realised this after the fifth listen of the album in a row, but it is now something I can’t stop hearing, something that didn’t feature on his previous two albums.

The album is a great listen throughout with his sound progressing in a really positive way, reinventing his music once again but keeping to his distinct sound. It will be an album I am sure to play over and over throughout the year, but I don’t think it’s a ground breaking album for him. His story telling ability hasn’t floundered and the overall sound has become more live orientated (which was a genuine surprise but arguably the best thing about Ghostpoet) with each song featuring guitar, bass and drum which are all fantastic up to the very end. Unfortunately the big name feature artists weren’t fully utilised, featuring only with menial backing vocals that could have been done by anyone, so I think the album has fallen short of its full potential (and my high expectations).

Iain Lauder