‘Important beyond its sphere’
Lucy Sheehan
10:53 30th April 2020

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Ghostpoet has the lyrical ability to depict life’s panoramas and minutiae with an equally deft hand - delicate sketches sit alongside huge existential questions on love, society and prejudice. With its dark, multifaceted ambience, this richly crafted self-produced album should reinforce Ghostpoet’s place as among our best, and most underrated artists. 

Over a restless evolution of looping beats and flickering white noise, opening track ‘Breaking Cover’ hits out at life in the cacophony of voices that make up humanity’s online dialogue, with information saturated into meaninglessness – “There’s too much noise, I can’t turn it off, panic attacks, I need a break”. A similar anxiety permeates the single ‘Concrete Pony’. Twitching synths and dissonant strings conjure the brittle light of late night Twitter scrolling and its meaningless, addictive chaos. Lines like Hit me I wanna just feel” bleed revulsion and unease. 

Our troubling osmosis into social media is a constant preoccupation across the album. Its presence is most viscerally felt in the track ‘Social Lacerations’ – “Selfie away, make sure you use all the filters, crawl over me” - but perhaps most poignantly in ‘When Mouths Collide’, surfacing intrusively even during moments of human tenderness: “hashtag forever”. 

One of the album’s most striking moments is ‘Humana Second Hand’. Jagged, sawing strings are followed by a chorus of gorgeous romantic discordance. The song culminates in a gaping loneliness, Ghostpoet whispering below a soundscape of urban chatter, What becomes of me?” The strength of this song, in its scraping drums, slumping bass and the extreme vulnerability of Ghostpoet’s voice, evokes PJ Harvey at her most disturbing and restless.

Songs like ‘Rats in a Sack’ and ‘Black Dog Got Silver Eyes’ are Ghostpoet at his most eloquent, addressing the experience of ethnic minorities in post-Brexit referendum, post-Windrush Britain. They were screaming out means out means out” evokes depressing tabloid babble and thegiddy hate” that fuels it. The line Wind rushed and chilled me to the bone” elegantly weighs a conflux of panic and weariness, horror and defiance. 

Songs of moving sweetness, even while they retain the album’s characteristic unease, display Ghostpoet’s new talent as a producer. ‘When Mouths Collide’, with its delicate overlay of birdsong and pretty keys, recalls Aphex Twin’s ‘Avril 14’, before the song makes an unexpected climb into desperate climax, “You’re slipping away from me again”, while playful synths pepper the ascent like deflating balloons.

Ghostpoet’s genre has been a point of small contention throughout his career. Early labels like hip hop or rap had the faint whiff of lazy prejudice, particularly when his music incorporates both alternative and post-rock. Indeed, the joy of this album is its energetic creativity and diverse expansiveness, which Ghostpoet describes as “sonically opulent”. Veering guitars and meandering Kim Deal style backing vocals (particularly in ‘Nowhere to Hide Now’) seem to come from the frenzied sphere inhabited by Pixies, while the album’s strange and rich string arrangements nod towards Serge Gainsbourg. The bass tone across the album has the weird, lo-fi flavour of Can.  

This album is Ghostpoet’s fifth and his darkest and most subtle to date. There is a sense - encapsulated by the title track ‘I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep’ - of deep weariness and horror at society’s direction, countered by an urgent need to bear witness, whether towards further degradation or in fact hope. That observant, honest intensity makes this album feel important beyond its sphere. 

I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep is released on 1 May 2020 via PIAS.

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