New Sonics Fall Flat
London lyricist Obaro Ejimwe, better known as Ghostpoet, emerged in 2011 among a wave of other British producer-songwriters embracing minimal electronic: James Blake, SBTRKT and Jamie xx, to name a few. Ghostpoet’s debut album, the disastrously titled Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, kept up this trend with sub bass-driven microbeats and soulful singing that earned him a Mercury Prize nomination. The follow-up, 2013’s Some Say I So I Say Light, continued with software-produced music. On his latest album, Shedding Skin— the only Ghostpoet album title that isn’t cringeworthy when said aloud — Ghostpoet explores what his words would sound like over a more traditional set-up of drums, guitar and piano. The stylistic shift offers more tangibility to his midnight alt-R&B, but lyrical inadequacies and production choices leave the album short of the exciting underground-star potential of his previous efforts.
Despite Ghostpoet’s leanings into left-field hip-hop, he has never considered himself a rapper. His self-described “mumbling” delivery, slack-jawed and leaving an untrimmed trail of “uh” at the end of every phrase, has markings of another British rapper, Tricky. His backdrops share the same dark vibes of 90s Bristol. On “Yes I Helped You Pack,” a sinister guitar line forms a skeletal frame for Etta Bond’s airy vocal. Disappointingly, however, Ghostpoet’s original bedroom-produced electronics, deep and flavorful, would better suit the track than the featured acoustic drum kit, flat and dry. His Portishead impression comes through right after on “That Ring Down The Drain Kind Of Feeling” with its swung, hollow drum beat and vibrato organ. Nadine Shah’s noir vocals on this track assume the role of Beth Gibbons but with only a fraction of Gibbons’ lyrical depth. Multiple times throughout the song, Shah repeats a banal line about being heartbroken with “a heart on the mend,” a missed opportunity for an emotional jab.
Shedding Skin and its sound switch-up is the mark of an artist not willing to stagnate and recycle old techniques. But within this newfound sonic territory, listeners may be let down with how little variety the tracks supply. The consistency is there; the shadowy and ominous moods of his first two records are revived with stalking piano lines and chilling guitar shimmers. But this third full-length is only an extension of that sound with less effective percussion and obvious lyrics. On “Sorry My Love, It’s You Not Me,” guest vocalist Lucy Rose and Ghostpoet jointly sing, “It’s just you’re forgettable / I think that’s the issue, babe,” decidedly identifying Shedding Skin’s ultimate flaw.