Two years ago, Obaro Ejimiwe’s debut album caused a bit of a stir. Introverted and proudly mundane, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam earned the man better known as Ghostpoet a Mercury nomination for his head-turning blend of isolated electronica and observational lyricism. At a time when black music in Britain had come to be defined by the likes Tinchy Stryder and, less embarrassingly, Tinie Tempah, Ghostpoet stood out an artist with more than chart success and breaking America on his mind.
This follow-up, the tongue-twisting Some Say I So I Say Light, sees Ejimiwe momentarily expand his focus beyond internal minutae and bask in the confusion bred by modern life and matters of the heart, all while treating the listener to more of the same. Musically, Some Say I presents a vast array of electronic beats, ranging from sedate and woozy to prickly and paranoid. Hints of Kid A/Amnesiac-era Radiohead can be heard, but there are some notable interludes that see orchestral and indie stylings sneak into frame.
Opener ‘Cold Win’ makes Ejimiwe’s focus clear as he takes on the role of a directionless fast food worker bemoaning his everyday struggle while yelping of his need to “go back before the sun sets on [his] heart”. The menial annoyances and tiring ambiance of everyday life in urban centres form the bedrock of Ghostpoet’s musical and lyrical choices, but universal, inter-personal themes now have a place where they were ignored on Peanut Butter Blues.
Much like Peanut Butter Blues, however, Some Say I can be willfully small scale and frustratingly elliptical at times. It is an album that sometimes lacks musical dynamism and lyrical detail, making for unmemorable and obtuse listening. ‘Sloth Trot’ is particularly well named and takes its sweet time about moving beyond its one-note keyboard riff and occasional guitar noodling, while ‘ThymeThymeThyme’ never clicks, mismatching whirring synths and chattering percussion as Ejimiwe aimlessly rhymes over the top.
There are moments of staggering beauty to be found though. ‘Meltdown’ has the makings of a song that will live long in the memory which cannot be said for a few of songs on Some Say I. A kitchen sink drama comes to life as Ejimiwe and guest vocalist Woodpecker Wooliams travel around the city. Heartache plays out in public; on the tube, the bus or in the car, it is exposed and laid bare. For once, Ejimiwe fails keep everything under wraps and obscure his feelings with lingering details and first-world problems.
Closer ‘Comatose’ serves to remind of what might have been, culminating in a stirring climax of strings and hyperactive glitches. It easily finds the higher gear that Ejimiwe seems hesitant to shift into throughout, before topping itself seconds later and bringing the album to a sterling end. That reluctance to grant such musical payoff is proof of Ghostpoet’s discipline as a producer and his dedication to capturing the repetitive dirge of city life in his music, which, though admirable, can be deeply unsatisfying. Tracks like ‘Comatose’ and the haze-like tapestry of ‘Dorsal Morsel’ are more fulfilling for their shifts and nuances.
Some Say I So I Say Light is at its best when Ghostpoet ignores the need to chronicle everyday mundanity and focuses his talents on grander themes and richer musical textures, unfettered from oppressive repetition.