Review Summary: Ghostpoet’s follow up to his impressive debut is every bit as elusive as it’s fleeting title, Some Say I So I Say Light; it’s also gorgeous, rich, thick and considered, if possibly an album away from tantalizing heights of near-perfection.
For those not familiar with his previous work, Ghostpoet’s vocal delivery is unique. The common, lazy characterization places it somewhere in between Mike Skinner’s (of The Streets) naked spoken word and Roots Manuva’s deep, rolling rap but at the intersection between the two it finds it’s own distinct identity. Rhythmically, whereas spoken word casts words free to be heard and then to die, syllables here are held on the tongue as words roll into one another with insistency, a constant rumble of pitched breath and murmur. Despite his rebuttals of characterization as a rapper or an MC, this sustenance allows a crafted rhythmicity – a rapper’s flow of sorts. Sure, barely a half-rhyme ties lines together and it is rare that anything lands tightly on the one but nonetheless words fall delightfully into relevance with the beat, if not in step with it. The constant push just past the beat has lines hang and then fall just-late, like Pino Palladino on D’Angelo’s Voodoo, percursory, or perhaps precursory, but knowingly so.
Carried in the flow, subtly, half-mumbled wireframes of melodies reverberate like half-remembered refrains echoed on the train, occasionally erupting up a fifth or so into a clear but fleeting hook before dropping back down again. Melody is far too carefully handled for parallels with most rap, though Eminem possibly approaches its use in his more inspired moments, and yet, the force of the contrast between rap verse and rap hook is mirrored, forays into higher registers gaining interest for their rarity. If anything Some Say I So I Say Light would benefit from more of these moments. The faintly recognisable (a feeling common throughout listening to the album) soaring refrain accompanying “And I don’t wanna go down that road” in Them Waters, for example, delicately and beautifully punctuates the line as the sole expression of a want against a background of passive, reactionary narration and timidity (“Cos if I stop to think/ It may open floodgates that no key can ever lock”). With similar melodic success, on Meltdown, bright verse melodies build towards Woodpecker Wooliams’s light, ethereal chorus, in effective juxtaposition to the contemplative breakup carried by the same words, and in Plastic Bag Brain, powered by Tony Allen’s kinetic drumming, a positively acrobatic chorus melody by Ghostpoet standards maintains an album peak for sheer movement across the track.
Lyrically, Some Say I So I Say Light, is superb throughout. Meltdown, for example, is poignant and representative of the whole album. It could be the companion piece to Skinner’s Dry Your Eyes, painting break-up not in clear tones of plain anger or sadness but honestly, as a more complex thing – near compatibility, perhaps missed opportunity: “Maybe if I looked afar/ I could stop the catastrophe”. By the end something conciliatory and beautiful is sought in nostalgia: “Now it’s love that soaks my heart/ I contemplate the dark/ And superglue the memories and better days/ The times that made you laugh”. Grounding this rich lyricism across the album is a knack for a cute simile – “Bitter like old tea/ And unloved Grandmas” -, and memorable imagery – “I think I’ve got a problem but the mirror says ‘no’/ And the wallet says ‘yes’ more drinks I guess”. Tonally Some Say I So I Say Light is reflective and drenched in metaphor to sink into over time, elusive like the scraps of the melody, the just-missed beat and the shadows of some harmony or melody once known.
Behind the vocals lies music parts Trip-Hop, parts Electronica, parts some live-instrumental take on the above, but always nightscapes, quiet city life, gradual and enveloping. There are whispers of the sullen, snowy mood of Burial’s dub-step but this is tempered by a greater activity. Reverb is laid on thick but selectively, giving space to a snare here and a guitar there but not diffusing all urgency. The presence of live instrumentation provides a sense of organic immediacy contrasting with the greater dominance of hip-hop rigidity in the first album – Sloth Trot even concludes with something resembling a guitar solo. At times the production is electric – in the captivating MSI MUSMID a single cyclical chord progression recalling Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief - somewhere in between 2 + 2 = 5, minus the crazed drop, and Sit Down. Stand Up – fuels an incessant, glitchy jitter forward as we are warned, “But upping up tempo leads to upping up mistakes”, and then forward and forward still.
However, it’s typical of the album that the great mistake in MSI MUSMID never comes – there is no crash, no drop, and as predictable – perhaps tediously so – that it would have been, on every listen I can’t help but yearn for a descent into madness. I wonder if therein lies the album’s biggest missed opportunity: like a whispered commentary or instruction, the minimalism so central to Ghostpoet’s sound beckons the listener in close to appreciate the finer details but perhaps remaining so retrained in its excess it also cheats itself of the truest of highs and lows. Some Say I So I Say Light is at it’s best when momentarily casting aside its modesty and pretence to being for the listener to interpret as they so wish, such as in the melodic refrain in Them Waters, in the sheer force of forward movement of MSI MUSMID, in the formidable syncopation in the vocals of Sloth Trot. Clearly it’s a headphone album for the early hours, for considering the world quietly in wonder and reflection but I couldn’t help but find tracks like 12 Deaf and Dial Tones a little too flat, as listenable as they certainly are.
On the closer, Comatose, the album concludes when a darkness typical of much of the album dissolves into a hopeful string crescendo. It’s brief, more of an endnote than a final paragraph, but it’s indicative of a feeling not of optimism but perhaps of an acceptance of the darkness felt in life, an end to the catharsis of recollecting it, perhaps a proclamation: that was I, me, but this, this new moment, this is light, as of yet uncorrupted. Some Say I So I Say Light‘s beauty lies in its habituation of this liminal place between darkness and light, between spoken word, rap and melody, between this beat and the next and between the warmth of organic instruments and the cold of its dub-step and hip-hop roots. Although it’s not perfect it is absorbing, unique and a step forward for the artist. A follow-up could be seminal.