Carry Me Home
It has been over a year since Obaro Ejimiwe, better known by his stage name Ghostpoet, was nominated for the 2011 Mercury Prize. His debut album Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam was unlucky to miss out on the award – it was eventually given to P J Harvey – with his LP standing out as one of the most exciting break-through acts of the year. Tapping into a London soundscape that enjoys proponents such as The XX, Ghostpoet weaves raw vocal lyrics over hypnotic electronic loops.
The distinctive, underground feel to his music creates a claustrophobic atmosphere where the listener is drawn in by the oppressive weight of the bass; however, in a move that elevates him above other similar artists, Ghostpoet interlays this with a lighter, rhythmic pattern that counterbalances the heavier sounds. This can be heard playing out across tracks such as Us Against Whatever Ever; what we are left with is a balance, poising the listener on the liminal stage between the deep bass and the high rhythms.
Liminality is certainly the key to unlocking this album. The progression of the tracks and the narrative that it weaves places both artist and listener somewhere on the streets of London at dawn. The image of Ghostpoet wandering a deserted East End is bourn out in the eerie Longing for the Night (Yeah Pause) and the standout track Cash and Carry Me Home. However, it is not only the twilight between night and day that the album brings to mind, but also the stage between wake and dream. As the album twists in unusual directions, we enter different stages of Ghostpoet’s subconscious psyche, emerging only occasionally from this dream-state in tracks such as Liiines, where the self-conscious workings of his craft come to the fore.
Whilst the instrumental music is fundamental to the overall aesthetic of the album, it is through the vocal work that Ghostpoet achieves excellence. A keen sense of humour emerges through macabre imagery and choice linguistic play. On Cash and Carry Me Home, Ghostpoet opens: ‘my hand grip whiskey like a newborn child’ before describing his drunken antics as mere ‘shenanigans’.
The breakdown of Standard-English (‘Life’s to short to make no plans’) and the interplay of images in increasingly literalized terms (‘Rain ain’t soothing, it jus’ soak deep inside bones and dark in a darker tone, but light seeps to pitter through’), gestures towards a scattered, post-modern view of language itself. Whilst it is a bold assertion to declare oneself a poet, as we re-listen to the track one notices that there is a lot more going on here than simply rap, with the self-appointed epigraph being well deserved.
It is on Survive It that Ghostpoet makes his greatest debt of gratitude explicit, describing what ‘Gil Scott said’. The recent passing of Gil Scott Heron, just after the release of his sublime final album I’m New Here, was a tragedy for music. The influence of this elder statesman can be heard in the gravelly vocals of the young artist, situated somewhere between spoken-word and singing.
Ghostpoet’s achievement in this album is resisting the temptation to create catchy jingles. It would be too easy to simply anchor each track to a sing-along chorus; however, doing so would rip the soul from the music and relegate it to the doldrums of MTV charts; instead, the album is elevated by its insistence on musical integrity. Each track operates both autonomously and as a part of the grand workings of the album. Indeed, the only way to listen to Ghostpoet’s music is in its entirety.
W. J. Humphries