What does the thought of shedding skin bring up for you? Revealing your true self perhaps? A transition, a new beginning, a change in direction? Or making yourself more vulnerable? Ghostpoet’s Shedding Skin is perhaps all of these things at one time or another. The third long player from the London-based artist is a change of direction towards a band orientated sound. The electronic elements remain present but are met with bass and drums and guitar for a sound that is more organic, more rock based. It is shift that could alienate fans of Ghostpoet, who has shown a profound ability to capture the attention of the critics. His melancholic tales of life’s hardships set against a background of sparse, minimal beats have garnered plaudits aplenty. Obaro Ejimiwe, for he is Ghostpoet, is stepping out to newer pastures and this represents something of a risk.
‘Off Peak Dreams’ opens up the record and will be well known to many of you. Ghostpoet’s vocals, somewhere between rapping and singing, unfolding over an urban soundscape. The voice is friendly but weary, like Ejimiwe has seen plenty of mishaps in his time and isn’t going to get caught out again, “You think I’m getting confused but I see clear/Look mate I said I’m ready to roll.” Underneath him the bass throbs and aches ‘til you end up feeling it more that hearing it. The melody is carried with minor chord piano and a needling guitar. It is a bold, assured start and sets the tone for an album set deep in the urban world. The music sparks images of late night cab rides, waiting for the night bus, crowds searching for the next club, one too many drinks, suspicion and mistrust fuelling misunderstandings and falling outs. Dreams not broken exactly but stressed and fractured, worn thin by the day-to-day grind.
Not that it is all a weary miserable trudge. Despite the hardships there is space for hopes, however fragile, to surface. ‘Be Right Back, Moving House’ is quietly uplifting, guitars and strings suggesting a stirring, a regeneration of something better and brighter. “Love/Love will remain/Throughout the pain and strain/Over the years” goes the opening lyric. The feelings shift, the challenges come and go, but there are things worth hanging on in there for. The music steadily builds, the optimism grows whilst remaining grounded in the reality of life’s ups and downs. Similarly the closing track ‘Nothing In The Way’ is a subtle anthem to get you back on your feet, a tale of picking yourself up from the gutter and getting back to having the courage to live life, “Yeah we all fall down/But when we get up/Nothing in the world can stop us.” Strings stir, beats pulse, the piano marches defiantly, gracefully on… it is a moving tale of salvation, of coming out on the other side, to something better. It is an inspiring piece of music.
A darkness and despair do punctuate Shedding Skin at other times. ‘Yes, I Helped You Pack’ is edgy and wounded, the guitar hooks jarringly, ‘til the song seems to falls into a pit of loathing, “All you think of is yourself” accuses Ejimiwe with a cold hurt in his voice. ‘That Ring Down The Drain Kind Of Feeling’ has a strong Portishead influence with Nadine Shah’s backing vocal looping in the background whilst sparse guitar rings out. It is unsettling, leaving you uncomfortable in your own skin and unsure what is going to happen next. This is a record for late, late nights when taking stock and contemplating the for better or worse of life’s dramas.
Dominating the record is the London tones of Ghostpoet. Ejimiwe has a sureness about his delivery which is captivating. His voice has a tenderness and warmth to it whilst managing to sound world worn too. This compliments the overall mood of the record; somewhere between beaten and unbowed. For fans of Ghostpoet’s previous work it won’t be a huge leap into the unknown, more an evolution of style and breadth that is coherent with past works. For those coming to it afresh it will be a heartfelt and moving listen. The addition of the rock elements will doubtless mean Shedding Skin reaches new audiences and the upward trajectory continues. Don’t be surprised if, come awards time, Ghostpoet is once again there or thereabouts for a gong.
Shedding Skin is available from amazon & iTunes.