Anxious, paranoid and deeply unsettling – Mercury Prize nominee Ghostpoet’s fifth LP is an apposite soundtrack for these troubled times ****½ Four and a half stars

Back in 2004, the American psychologist Barry Schwartz published a fascinating tome entitled The Paradox of Choice. Anticipating the state of things to come, Schwartz explored the concept of autonomy and choice – how when, the more we choice we seem to have, the less beneficial the impact upon our mental wellbeing.

      16 years later, the acclaimed British musician Ghostpoet, aka Obaro Ejimiwe, is exploring very similar themes on his hugely-anticipated fifth LP, I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep. With eerie prescience, the two-time Mercury Prize nominee has returned with an album which dissects the universal unease and anxiety of the new decade. Containing ten vital, visceral tracks, it’s a record suffused with a distinctly 2020 angst – reflecting a post-Brexit, post-truth world in which we’re assailed with relentless, inexorable information and opinion on a 24/7 basis.     

      Ejimiwe is, of course, no stranger to producing music of anxious, claustrophobia-fuelled tension. Since he first emerged at the start of the 2010s, the London-based musician has established a strong sonic signature: his albums, impossible to categorise, are awash with intense inner monologues carefully externalised and set to stunningly intricate soundscapes. 

      His latest LP, however, surely ups the ante. Recent single ‘Concrete Pony’ instantly sets the mood, a track which explores the seemingly paradoxical inertia of modern society – “Infinite possibilities and choices galore but we seem set in stone,” as Ejimiwe recently put it. Anchored by a deep, pulsing bassline, it’s a perfect showcase for Ghostpoet’s haunted poetry and melodic, deeply engaging spoken word style. 

     Darker still, ‘Humana Second Hand’ combines a jagged guitar signature and ominous, stark piano to produce the sort of widescreen trip-hop soundscape that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Massive Attack or Tricky album circa the late-90s.

     Ejimiwe has always been a keen advocate of teamwork, and this latest LP is certainly no exception: the likes of Art School Girlfriend, Skinny Girl Diet’s Delilah Holiday and singer Katie Dove Dixon are amongst the eclectic mix of guests to contribute to the record. That sense of collaboration is surely best illustrated on the outstanding album highlight ‘This Trainwreck Of A Life’ – a gigantic slab of David Lynch-esque, experimental noir-rock punctuated by female vocals and portentous synths and strings. Intense and intoxicating, it’s surely one of the finest tracks Ghostpoet has ever recorded. 

     After his last LP, 2017’s Dark Days + Canapes, there was much talk about Ghostpoet embracing a more accessible, alt-rock sound. On the evidence of I Grow Tired…, he’s clearly found a middle ground between his more outre, avant-garde persuasions and his rockier, guitar-driven tendencies. ‘Nowhere To Hide Now’ convincingly channels the driving aggression of 80s post-punk, whilst the superb title track blends Radiohead-esque rock dynamics with tortured existential poetry.     

      I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep won’t fill dancefloors, nor will it receive widespread airplay on daytime radio. However, as a barometer of where we, as a society is headed, it’s a perfect soundtrack for these troubled times. As far as Ghostpoet is concerned, it’s surely mission accomplished.   

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