Friday, 6 March 2015

Album Review:Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin


Obaro Ejimiwe's profile seemed to rise rapidly following a Mercury Prize-nomination in 2011 for his debut album under the name Ghostpoet, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, losing out to PJ Harvey for the award. He had some releases to his name, including work with pop experimentalist Micachu, defining his sound with electronic production as half-spoken vocals that saw him straddling somewhere between singer songwriter, producer and alternative hip hop, a sound he continued to define for his 2013 follow-up Some Say I So I Say Light alongside working with Damon Albarn and The Streets.

For his third album Shedding Skin, his touring band have gotten a look in on this album, replacing the electronic textures and beats of his previous album, relegating them to a supporting role behind the drum kit and guitars. Whilst every other songwriter is going down the vocals and beats path laid out by the likes of James Blake, it's interesting to see Ghostpoet taking a different path.

The whole album with the addition of a full band feels like a bigger collaborative piece of work, drifting into new sounds like the hints of psychedelic soul in the energetic opening track Off Peak Dreams and dream pop creeps in X Marks The Spot. The album is bolstered with appearances from Lucy Rose, Etta Bond, Nadine Shah and Maximo Park front man Paul Smith adding to the voices and characters that carry Ghostpoet's dark narratives.

Shedding Skin creates a personal, intimate feel, guided by Ejimiwe's low key mellow vocals. X Marks The Spot cultivates this mood over it's quiet bass pulse before breaking into a dream pop chorus of paired male female vocals. The back and forth argument between the capable vocals of Nadine Shah carries it the drama of a relationship that's run out of steam as Ejimiwe just sounds tired as he singsI don't care anymore”.

The title track keeps the drums to a minimum leaving more space to be filled by it's eerie tones and haunted repetition of the line “You think you know me/You'll never know me”. That Ring Down The Drain Kind Of Feeling sustains the dark sound with it's looser late night trip-hop swathed in murky vocals, echoing guitars and cold keys that chill like the midnight soul of early Portishead.

Yes, I Helped You Pack's darker rock conveys a domestic relationship crumbling with more than a little echo of Radiohead in it's ringing minor key guitar lines and creeping electronic echoes, an influence that seems to be weave through much of Shedding Skin, especially on tracks like the synth-led Better Not Butter.

Following advice given by Brian Eno, Ejimiwe recording an album quickly, Shedding Skin feels like it's benifited from that approach. It's focused body of work with a few small surprises. The more ambitious piano-led album closer Nothing In The Way shows there are more than a few novel tricks to Ghostpoet's song writing. It's a welcome shake up to Ghostpoet's sound that may pay off further when performed live, imbuing his song writing with a palatable drama as he paints vivid pictures of social ills and disintegrating relationships.

Album Review:BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul


BADBADNOTGOOD were at risk of becoming an academic minded jazz group, forming at the Humber College jazz program in Toronto. It's Hip Hop's gain that the three piece's jazzy covers of hip hop, electronica and video game soundtracks that they posted to Bandcamp got them the attention of the likes of Tyler, The Creator and led them to working with Earl Sweatshirt and Danny Brown.

Having already worked with Wu-Tang member RZA on the soundtrack to Man With The Iron Fists, the group have now collaborated on a full length album Sour Soul with Ghostface Killah, a rapper who has held the reputation of one of the best storytellers in Hip-Hop, earned during his time as a member of the newly regrouped Wu-Tang Clan and over a number of acclaimed solo albums like Fishscale and Supreme Clientele.

After a short musical introduction Mono sets the soulful tone for the rest of the album, Sour Soul really begins with it's title track as Ghostface wastes no time dropping lines that would sound rushed in other rappers hands, but here feels natural. Lines like “No technology, this world's corrupt
/They can't feed me food for thought, I won't budge
” drop as an aggressive statement of intent.

Tones Rap is the most obvious example of Ghostface's storytelling style, revelling in performing as a larger than life, amoral pimp, full of complaints and problems but still unable to turn away from his criminal life, ending with the admission “Pimping ain't easy but it sure is fun”. The album is boosting by a varied selection of guests. Previous BADBADNOTGOOD collaborator Danny Brown shows up on Six Degrees on characteristically manic form whilst the down-tempo feel of Street Knowledge is assisted by the gruff but mellow Tree

An obvious comparison would be The Roots but the most obvious touchstones seem to be Bringing in string arrangements that add real warmth to the exploitation movie-era soul, it wouldn't be a stretch of imagination to hear Curtis Mayfield singing over some of these tracks especially when BADBADNOTGOOD get a real chance in the spotlight like on the instrumental Starks' Reality or the lush album closer Experience.

Ray Gun features cult hip-hop figure DOOM and lets us see what the long gestating collaboration between him and Ghostface might just sound like. In fact, the track covers Brazilian musician Caetano Vaeloso's Alfomega, a track that was meant to be used originally on a track with DOOM on Ghostface's album Fishscale but the sample wasn't cleared. The bouncy and quick tempo beat feels more in line with early upbeat music of De La Soul before it ends in a big moment of jazz-laden film score bombast.

It's a compelling collaboration, the flexibility of a live group over samples allows the music more room to build and support the narratives as they unravel or smoothly transition into musical interludes. Ghostface may not be on top of his game here but he definitely has his moments and it could be easy to see BADBADNOTGOOD becoming a mainstay of Hip-Hop album credits in the near future, at least for rappers that are willing to looks outside the current electronic trends for inspiration. BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah have both found something good on Sour Soul, so here's hoping it's not a one-off.