In our review last week, for Rina Sawayama'a debut record, we talked about how the word "genre" is becoming increasingly meaningless as artists continue to mesh genres together and experiment to find their own sound. Last week was more the former, a mix of set genres that were being blended together, but this week is certainly the latter. Unless you are familiar with his previous records, you have never heard anything like Ghostpoet before, and that is an absolute guarantee. What genre is Ghostpoet? None. He is just...Ghostpoet.
It may not be a record of any particular genre, but there is certainly a theme to this album. It's dark, hauntingly reflective, as evidenced by the lyrics of just about every song. 'Rats in a Sack' is based on the Windrush scandal, with lines such as "far right on the jukebox" and "out means out", lifted straight from the Brexiteers. Furthermore, the observation that "it's getting kinda complex these days" on 'Breaking Cover', and just the title of 'This Train Wreck of a Life', are both indicators of the bleak outlook on life this record holds. The fact that it's dark isn't just my opinion; over the weekend, Ghostpoet himself said on Twitter that he "did worry it was a little too dark, especially for these times", but that's not something he should worry about. Though we all want a bit of positivity in these times, it can also be a comfort to know that it's not just us experiencing some darkness, as it tells us we're not alone. It certainly epitomises the times we live in.
Musically, it's beautiful, a little ethereal at times, particularly the pads and synths found on tracks such as 'When Mouths Collide', which makes you feel like you're floating into space. The album's generally slow tempo, combined with some fine bass lines and guitar work inventive enough to make Tom Morello take notes, mix perfectly with the themes presented to us in the lyrics. Though it's of no particular genre, the music's melancholic style is consistent throughout; Ghostpoet may not be pigeon-holed into a preset genre but he certainly has a sound all of his own. The most mainstream song on here is the title track, and even that's not going to get anywhere near Radio 1. 6Music is his best shot, and indeed, they made this their 'Album of the Day' recently. Fully deserved, too.
Of course, breaching the boundaries of radio comes with its own compromises; two Mercury Prize nominations for previous records and the 6Music recognition cannot gloss over the fact that this likely has little appeal with the masses. "Do I want to be popular? Of course.", he said in another tweet. "But I do need to dilute my art to fit easier in a box? I don’t feel so." That mindset perfectly sums up the album; this is undiluted and far from a box ticker. This is a vision, a record that hasn't been tainted with a need to make it mainstream. Newcomers to Ghostpoet's music may take a few songs to settle in - I certainly did. But when you've fully adjusted, you begin to recognise how special this music is, how one-of-a-kind. It may not hit the mainstream, but its artistic merit is pure and uncompromised for it.
Ghostpoet, real name Obaro Ejimiwe, even explained this. "The only thing that matters to me is my craft and creating art with depth and meaning.", he said. "Everything else is secondary." In certain situations, tunnel vision is a hinderance, but here it has yielded tremendous results. In fact, the more I've written the review, the more I myself have realised how much I enjoyed it. With its dark, underground vibe and eye-opening lyrical themes, Ghostpoet has delivered an album that is synonymous with the times we live in.
Don't get the wrong idea - despite its gloomy commentary, listening to it is far from a bleak, depressing experience. Despite its themes, I am coming away from it simply feeling impressed. This review may be made up of many words, but truthfully, my head is just repeating the phrase "damn, this was bloody good". But not only is it brilliant - it's also original, creative, imaginative. If you've been looking for something different, then look no further. It's right here, under everyone's noses, and unfortunately it certainly won't get the recognition it so richly deserves.
Readers of this website will know that I'm a metal fan at heart, and so far my favourite record of the year is Dance With The Devil by Burning Witches. However, outside of my own biases, I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep certainly takes the cake. It is, without doubt, one of the absolute highlights of the year so far, and an absolute must for everyone who enjoys music that can genuinely be described as new and original. Magnificent.
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