27 October 2015

Ghostpoet - Shedding Skin

Here is my next review in our series of reviews for the 2015 Mercury Music Prize; for this review I will be looking at the third album by Obaro Ejimiwe (aka Ghostpoet).  This is the second time that he has been on the short list to win this award - his first album 'Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam' was nominated in 2011, but lost out to the all-conquering 'Let England Shake' by PJ Harvey.  Ghostpoet is obviously a name I have heard before, but not an artist I have really had a chance or a burning desire to check out.  The style of trip-hop and alternative hip-hop are styles that I really have to be in the mood to invest in and check new works out, otherwise I will switch off and that is a little disrespectful to the artists involved if I do that.  This time, my hand is being forced and I am checking something out when I might not be fair - but that is for consideration later.  With each release, Ghostpoet has been released to higher acclaim and his audience is growing; also that cover it very interesting with its purse silver and blistering purple metal chemical reaction is certainly eye-catching - so is the music as attention grabbing.

Starting the album is "Off Peak Dream" which begins with a charming female voice as a piano plays whilst the rest of the band are getting themselves together.  When the band come together, it is a trip hop dream that reminds me of early Roots Manuva with a relaxed style to the vocals.  The song has a brilliant hook that states that Ghostpoet he is ready for something and the verses have various musing about the world and how it goes.  It is very interesting and reminds me of a band called 50 Yard Beat Experiment that I saw many moons ago, I loved that band and this song certainly wets the palette for this listener.  The second song is called "X Marks the Spot" which features Nadine Shah who is a singer from Whitburn, South Tyneside, this is the first of two tracks which she appears on.  The song in places have a resemblance to "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics (mostly the bass line in brief passages), it is a song which speaks of betrayal and loss with a dark passage of music.  It is another song that peaks my interest with its minimal styling and laid back delivery from Ghostpoet.  You have a really good hook once more in this song, it does stick with you for a long time after the song stops and that is a good sign that this song has sticking power.  The third track is "Be Right Back, Moving House" which features the talents of Paul Smith (vocalist with Maxïmo Park).  I think that it is safe to call this song spars, you do not have a lot of instrumentation in the song and there is not too many layers to the music in that respect; but it has an emotional level that does not need too much music to support it. It is a soul searching number as someone is trying to understand what is happening as a relationship has ended and the pieces need to be placed back together - it is a beautiful number to this stark and spars record.

The fourth track is the title track of the record "Shedding Skin" and features Mélanie De Biasio on vocals with Ghostpoet.  By this point you are used to the minimal instrumentation of the album, it is very relaxing and the lyrics about being not being known are very good once again.  I think that at this point you will have probably made your mind up about this album as it shares a similar style to the last three song of the records.  Always good to have some continuity, but a hint of variation would not have gone a miss either?  As if he senses this himself, "Yes, I Helped You Pack" brings a bit of energy to the album, but without adding more layers to the music.  The drums have been unleashed as have the synths here, everything has a been given a bit more which gives this song an edge  Even the guest vocalist (Etta Bond) has more to do here that other artists on this record.  A song about a relationship hitting rock bottom and the inevitable separation is a great song, it shows that there is more than one shade to this album which was really needed at this point.  The second track to feature Nadine Shah "That Ring down the Drain Kind of Feeling" is very depressing, I mean it sounds like Portishead when they were at their most miserable.....and then it starts to rain harder.  I have not heard anything this dark in terms of trip-hop for an awfully long time and whilst it may be as happy as those dark and woeful times in people's lives when it turns to shit, the song itself is one of the best on this album.  You are not going to come out of it with a smile on your face, but it is still a great song.

"Sorry My Love, it’s You Not Me" is the last song to feature a guest vocalist - this time it is Lucy Rose who has also performed with Manic Street Preachers and Bombay Bicycle Club.  It has a bit more energy to this song once again than was apparent in earlier numbers on the album, but it is used just as prudently as has been apparent of the record.  When one instrument starts to come to the forefront, others seem to vanish and Ghostpoet is all dominate to the song as has been the case for all of this album and the guests are used only very briefly.  Much like "Yes, I Helped You Pack" you have an up-tempo number for this album, but it is still delivered with the same laid back vocal style that has been the calling card of this album with this song of a failed romance going to the wall.   "Better Not Butter" is another song where the instrumentation is given more prominence than earlier on in the album, it is a song about wanting more in the world that seems to be passing us all by.  It is another song where the aggression is turned up once more and it feels like there is more anger behind this song than in previous numbers - but whilst a change is welcome, it is also a little late as well.  The penultimate song is called "The Pleasure in Pleather" and is strips everything back to the bones again, the song is about being out of control and everything is heading towards a messy end.  As the song goes on it starts to has a lot more in common with "Better Not Butter" as the band start to kick in with a lot more noise, however it is starting to drain on the record as it heads into the ending track.  "Nothing In the Way" ends the album, with a keyboard intro and the song is about getting back up after falling down.  It is a noble sentiment, back at the minimal end of Ghostpoet’s sound; however it is almost a relief that we are here as the last strings fade and the album reaches its conclusion.

I think it is fair to say that I have a few issues with this album and that it is not one that I will be returning to soon - one of the first thing that hinders this album is the similarity between numbers, there is very little to distinguish between some of the songs. By the time we reach the end of the album, it has just drifted too far in the wrong direction that it takes away from the good work which was done at the beginning of the album as I was really impressed by a few of the numbers. Another is that the guests on this record are used as sparingly as the instrumentation - if they were not there, I am not too sure if it would have made much of a difference in places and sometimes they are so far in the background that they might as well not have been there is the first place.  When sixty percent of your album have a guest and some of those performances are not memorable, then you have a problem.  In places this record really does connect with me, in places I felt it was working against itself and the audience in a way which was destructive to the outcome of the record.  It started off strong, but it sunk under the waves by the end of the album which is a real shame.  If this is your deal, more power for ya - I wish it was but it does not do anything for me and even if I was in the mood for this genre of music, it is not an album I would reach for and that is being fair.

5.5 out of ten - It could have been a bit better

Top track - That Ring down the Drain Kind of Feeling

You can purchase Shedding Skin on Amazon here

You can visit the Ghostpoet website here

You can follow Ghostpoet activities on Facebook here

You can stream Shedding Skin on Spotify here 

You can stream Shedding Skin on Deezer here 

You can stream Shedding Skin on Tidal here

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