The line between good and bad social commentary is a thin one. Make your message too loud or obvious, you’ll be ignored. Say too little, or say it too quietly, however, and nobody will hear. This battle threatens to usurp the bleak words of London-based Ghostpoet (Obaro Ejimiw), whose latest effort attempts to whittle away at some of this century’s most relevant issues. The project, titled Dark Days + Canapés, has a particularly effective method of delivering its messages. Rather than stick to a single rhetoric to hammer home, it dips into a number of issues, covering a wide range of pressing contemporary issues.
This commentary is not steeped in complexity, but is instead rather blunt. This is far from a weakness however – Ejimiw finds moments of intense emotion through somewhat simplistic lines. Phrases such as “Instagram your foes” do not immediately sound layered and complex, but have an undeniable substance to them – through these words, for example, one gets a sense of how social media acts as a vessel for many of our interactions. It’s rare that an artist will find so much power in simplicity, and Ghostpoet uses this talent effectively, making every line a talking point.
The album is opened by One More Sip, a scattered array of drums and piercing notes, with Ghostpoet’s slurred vocals washed over the rising pianos. Incorporating the surrealist overtones of 2015’s Shedding Skin, this track immediately presents itself as alien. Ghostpoet’s vocals however, tie it to his earlier works – the dark, gothic tone of 2013’s Some Say I So I Say Light remains at play throughout. This combination of styles is a boon, building on his previous efforts and making use of Ejimiw’s experimentation to create a sonically cohesive project.
Instrumentally, the album is brooding, with sharp strikes, murky hums and wearied riffs under Ejimiw’s darker lyrical overtones. Freakshow, for example, begins with a despondent guitar riff, setting a dreary mood for Ghostpoet’s vocals – “Ain’t left the city in months / I guess Westfield knows what I want”. Likewise, the Death Grips-inspired Karoshi’s industrial thundering paves the way for Ghostpoet’s despondent “To the grave, to the grave / Fighting for what? / Bloodshed and winning for what?”, allowing for the anti-war anthem to sound menacingly cold. This mix of grittiness and surrealism allows the work to thrive, dark, realistic moments heightened by distortion and chaotic sounds.
Much like he mixes the surreal with the gritty, Ghostpoet mixes the personal with the public. The aforementioned Freakshow is a good example, using a relationship allegorically to represent societal control. Usually, allegorical devices fall short, such as when unoriginal indie groups become convinced they’re the first to personify weed as a lady called Mary Jane. Ghostpoet’s usage, however, is fresh, blending subject matters to present a compelling narrative. Later, the aptly titled Live>Leave tackles the inevitability of death by using perspective, sketching a picture of the death of human achievement, then dismissing it lightly with “Can’t let it bother me”. This mixing of perspectives allows for Ghostpoet’s songs to move and change in interesting ways, creating engagement with the stories and a much more resonant message.
If Dark Days + Canapés says anything about its creator, it’s that his name was well chosen. Much like those of a poet, Ejimiw’s words read like an internal monologue, diving in and out of reality in varying patterns. The “poet” moniker is also true of his ability to paint pictures with words. Take the song Immigrant Boogie for example. Ghostpoet plays the role of an immigrant aboard a sinking ship, desperate for safety while water fills his lungs. The seemingly joyful “immigrant boogie”, through clever imagery, is painted as the flailing of desperate men and women, condemned to death at sea. Such bleak pictures are painted with ease, Ghostpoet’s mellow but despondent voice working overtime to build poetic narratives.
The London dialect is a varied one. While some may use it for its aggressive punch (look no further than Big Narstie), Ghostpoet uses the tone to remain at once grounded and aloft, in a wispy, monotone voice. This monotone delivery, however, has remained somewhat of a limitation throughout Ejimiw’s career. This is not to say that monotone is inherently negative – 21 Savage utilises it well to portray iciness on tracks such as No Heart, and Grime mainstay Giggs uses it to add greater bluntness to his words. However, whilst Dark Days is an improvement, it does not have the tone variance needed for Ghostpoet to fully drive powerful narratives, detracting from subsequent listens of the album somewhat.
Despite this, Ejimiw has produced an excellent soundscape to our times, mixing sounds, styles and tones to produce a bleak yet grounded look at our future. Whilst gripes regarding delivery remain, it’s Ghostpoet’s words that provide drive, leading this project to excellence.