Obaro Ejimiwe has never been one to shy away from confronting some of the despair that comes alongside living in modern times. Even on debut ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam’, he sang of drunken nights, being skint and feeling alone in the world. With his last LP, 2015’s ‘Shedding Skin’, he broadened his horizons, speaking of homelessness and domestic violence while also lamenting lost love. With the world being in a state of flux, it seems only natural that Ghostpoet would continue to look outwards, using the turbulent political and social climate as fuel for his latest album ‘Dark Days & Canapés’.
The tone for Obaro’s contemplation on contemporary life is set by his retention of the moody alt-rock that characterised ‘Shedding Skin’. Whether it’s driving, post-apocalyptic post-punk guitars or more languid tones, each note helps evoke the sense of unease that hangs like a darkened cloud around the album. No matter how harsh or soft the tone though, each element is weaved together like a subtle tapestry to create a fuller, even more evocative sound than anything he’s crafted before. Here, the music is just as important in creating an haunting, gloomy atmosphere as his words. With ‘Trouble + Me’, minor key chords sit alongside, not behind, ambiguous lyrics, while ‘We’re Dominoes’ finely layers all of its unique elements, from weeping guitar and piano melodies to drowned-out sonar noises, forging an enveloping, emotional mosaic.
It’s not just in the music where Ghostpoet’s vision has expanded even further either. ‘Dark Days & Canapés’ delves into themes that reflect our contemporary times with both empathy and nuance. Speaking in the first person on ‘Immigrant Boogie’ allows him to give a very human, personal spin on the tale of a refugee looking for a better life alongside his “two kids and lovely wife,” only to fall victim to the perils of the ocean. Bringing things closer to home, ‘Freakshow’ could be read as a commentary on modern relationships, complete with a reference to swiping left on Tinder. But it could also be interpreted as an examination of social media habits in general, as he declares “nothing good came from following you.” Taking its title from the Japanese word for “death from overwork,” ‘Karoshi’ sees Obaro in his bleakest mood, asking “and we’re / fighting for what?” as the world seems to collapse all around him.
Even when things seem to be at their bleakest though, there’s a small sliver of hope that occasionally penetrates through the gloom; even opener ‘Many Moods At Midnight’ states that “there’ll be better days, some say they’ll start tonight.” He gets the equilibrium between hope and despair most perfectly balanced on ‘Live>Leave’. On the one hand, it’s one of the heaviest, most existential tracks on the whole album. On the other, he musters the courage to carry on in the face of adversity, fully in the knowledge that he “can’t let it bother me” despite the lingering spectre of the Grim Reaper always looming large.
That’s what’s striking about ‘Dark Days & Canapés’. It never sounds completely oppressive, balancing its darkest moments with some lighter tones, Ghostpoet’s starkest lyrics with slightly more optimistic meditations. It might well be his most musically bold but thoughtful album to date, yet another stage in Obaro Ejimiwe’s fascinating evolution.