Some Say I So I Say Light
, May 8th, 2013 09:55
Pause on the title a moment. Process. At first it's gibberish. (At least, it's easy for it to seem so.) But reflect a little longer, and Ghostpoet's second album, the follow-up to his Mercury Prize-nominated debut Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, is an articulation of escape. "Some say I," where others might "we". Light… light is where we all, in our own ways, escape to when particular pressures become too noticeable to palm away to the periphery of the everyday. And if this existence is dictated by loves, Some Say I… is as raw a document of failed affections as anything more deliberately dressed in break-up connotations.
The clue's not only in the album title. Obaro Ejimiwe – for he is Ghostpoet, and Ghostpoet he – slipped thematic cards from his sleeve with this collection's lead single proper: 'Meltdown', which represents one of the most perfect expressions of catastrophic romantic breakdowns ever committed to proverbial tape. The track is something of a compositional march, its step military, albeit via some foggy memories of crossover 1990s two-step. But this briskness is countered by a lyrical stranglehold of absolute deconstruction. And the man himself doesn't even deliver the key hooks – the repeated "I don't feel right" lines are sung by rising Brighton avant-folk artist Woodpecker Wooliams.
It's she, rather than Ejimiwe, who – through being detached from the circumstances that inspired it – manages to drive home, at its sequential crux, one of the telling narrative strands of this album. That love is hard, that love causes unease, and that love can drive people apart just as brilliantly as it can magnetise one to another. His words, her voice: a healing-process (re)contextualisation, perhaps. Reflected catharsis.
Sequentially, Some Say I… makes its six-of-11 central meditation on separation perfectly telegraphed. Pre-'Meltdown', 'Thymethymethyme' finds Ejimiwe pondering, "Maybe it's time to find out where I really want to be… Maybe it's time to step outside, I know you're sick of me."Against a backdrop of spluttering digitised percussive constituents, this train of thought reaches its natural destination: a definite termination. In itself it's a heartbreaker – "Maybe it's time", with no question mark inflection to be heard – but the track is only one of many on the album that paints a palpable picture of the artist as one with their soul splintered.
And here's where Ghostpoet should never, truly, be marked as the next-whatever. Roots Manuva is a name held against Ejimiwe's chosen musical moniker as both parallel and forerunner. But this isn't music as easily categorised as that from the 'Witness (1 Hope)' maker, whose output tends to circle but a few notable tropes and tangents. Ghostpoet, to his credit (and perhaps commercial misfortune), chooses not to pursue a singular path. So Some Say I… skitters from rock pillar to dance post. It's as indie as it is hip-hop, whatever either means in a century of continuing cross-genre pollination and multi-platform synergy. He has songs here that evoke less memories of rappers' delights, more Radiohead pieces containing boundless possibility.
'Sloth Trot' is one such moment. Perhaps not initially, as its slow-reveal dynamics make the most of a six-minute runtime. But as a wailing guitar and methodically managed drum beats converge upon a sweet spot of suggestive reminiscence, so the head's turned into the upper body. Opener 'Cold Win' is another number that goes against typical perceptions of what a (seen-as-a) rapper is capable of. Its brassy flourishes reverberate additional textural details that a backbone of twitchy electronics provides support to, but never overpowers. It's a song that could, in its final seconds, jump into anything.
As it turns out, it jumps into the solid keyboard chords of 'Them Waters', a track that talks of "voices calling me again". It's a discourse on the dangers of flirting with an avenue B, while the anticipated A keeps one waiting. It's one of a few efforts here that possesses an accessibility not always evident on Peanut Butter Blues, its thick keys working in repetition to imprint the track on the grey matter. But it also, importantly, outlines concerns all can relate to: mail that came a week ago but remains unopened. Everyone's been there, surely. Not mail of the junk kind: mail that carries the red of outstanding-payment urgency. Even with perceived success on his side, every little clearly helps.
By penultimate cut 'Deaf', his uncertainty has become all-too-tangible - the track, featuring Dave Okumu of the Invisible, feels woozy with confusion. "My love is cheap," says Ejimiwe – but it's no absolute admission, more a cornered capitulation, a desperate, last-ditch grasp at something that just minutes ago slipped from between fingers. As the church-organ-like keys of 'Comatose' close proceedings, he reaches some level of acceptance: "I feel, like the whole world has turned its back on me / And I don't feel it's a tragedy."
Acceptance is progress, and progress is movement. The escape might be drink, it might be exercise, it might be… who knows. Life is complicated. Making sense of it takes effort, concentration, study. Ghostpoet has here taken a step into the post-breakthrough world with baggage aplenty. But he's carrying it, and carrying on, regardless. And in his processes, somehow "we" can all find a kind of hope.