Most of us are much the same, whatever our perceived differences. Zoom in closely enough on the matter that makes us – our bones, blood, skin; our souls – and, really, we’re very alike. And we all go through our share of bad situations, whatever our today might encompass. But we still have another thing in common: tomorrow can be whatever we want it to be.
Shedding Skin is tomorrow, today – for its maker, it’s the manifestation of a new challenge, of fresh thinking, after a preceding album of necessary catharsis. If you think you know multifaceted musician Ghostpoet, think again. While the past is important, this singular artist’s third studio album is a brave, confident stride into previously unexplored methodologies and untapped inspiration – it’s a reboot of sorts, the reinvention and distillation of traits that have so far made the man’s reputation. Nothing here sounds like a style stuck on repeat.
Explicitly personal insights have become wider perspectives: after 2013’s Some Say I So I Say Light LP purged London-based Obaro Ejimiwe of lingering spectres born of a relationship breakdown, ‘Shedding Skin’ allows him to refocus on what he loves: sitting, observing, processing, creating. In some respects Shedding Skin harks back to Ghostpoet’s Mercury Prize-nominated debut of 2011, ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam’, in its assembly at least: then, he was free of baggage, loose-limbed and able to capture a moment and spin it into a song; now, he’s in a comparable place, but has skilfully circumvented potential complacency by opening the door to creative collaboration while also placing strict conditions on the recording process.
More so than either previous LP, Shedding Skin is a warm, organic, alternative offering, crafted with a traditional live set-up by the musicians who have become ingrained in the Ghostpoet programme. Ejimiwe is flanked throughout by his touring band: Joe Newman on guitar; John Calvert on bass, who also co-produced the album alongside the man with his name on the sleeve; and John Blease on drums.
Of this approach, Ejimiwe is clear on his intentions: “I wanted a consistent sonic direction throughout the record. I was definitely seeking coherency. And I wanted my mates!” Also featured are guest vocalists including Lucy Rose, Etta Bond, Nadine Shah, celebrated Belgian singer Melanie De Biasio, and Maxïmo Park frontman Paul Smith.
The live set-up made for a far quicker recording process than ever before: from demos to mastered material in four months. “Brian Eno told me, when I was in Mali participating in African Express, that it was always best to record an album quickly, and then move on. That philosophy really stuck with me, and I brought it to the fore when making this album.”
Neither of Ghostpoet’s prior albums exactly lacked for coherence across their tracks, but Shedding Skin really is a definitive embracing of the format: 10 songs that are clearly designed to sit beside one another, to work as a whole. Tonally, it’s a set that runs through bright peaks and dark shallows, its topics including the tackling of domestic violence (‘Yes, I Helped You Pack’), the gut-wrenching encountering of an ex-love with their new beau (‘That Ring Down The Drain Feeling’), the awkwardness of the morning after a one-night stand (‘Sorry My Love, It’s You Not Me’) and the perception of the homeless (the title track). Heavyweight emotions, but always articulated with distance enough for the overall effect to be thought provoking, rather than choking.
“I try to write instinctively, and see things from various points of view,” says Ejimiwe on the album’s thematic content. ‘Yes, I Helped You Pack’ is a picture of a situation seen from the perspective of both participants, with Etta Bond providing complementary vocals to voice the female side. “It’s important to have that balance,” Ejimiwe continues, before turning to the track ‘Shedding Skin’. “Here, I didn’t want it to be, like, ‘Oh, look at him,’ or for it to present this homeless man as crazy. It’s more about the frustration and helplessness of the situation.”
Shedding Skin ends on a high, though, a song that cuts through the shit that life can throw at us all to say: you know what, something amazing might just be around the corner. Maybe it’s time to get living, y’know? Summoned forth on delicate piano work and carried upwards by soaring strings, ‘Nothing In The Way’ takes the give-it-all-up attitude and throws it over its shoulder, looking ahead all the way to the horizon – and what’s just over the other side. “We all fall down,” sings Ejimiwe; “But when we get up, nothing in the world can stop us… It’s what I believe.”
“We all go through ups and downs on a daily basis, regardless of your status, or how much money you have,” says the song’s architect. “Regardless of your situation, there’s always hope. And I think that’s something that’s come through in everything I’ve made, because I believe it so much. It’s an eternal thing.”
Ghostpoet’s eagle-eyed take on the most minute aspects of everyday living has inspired Shedding Skin, but there’s plenty of evident emotion at play, too – this is all sung from the heart, from the soul and the stomach, the places where feelings dance on the daily. “For this album, it felt silly to focus just on how great, or not, my own life is,” says Ejimiwe. “My life is only one amongst millions. And that’s the attitude of it.”
Millions of us, mingling, all the time: all with our quirks and flaws, our fabulous fuck-ups and impossible ambitions. We’re all absolutely perfect in our inconsistencies and beautiful in our achievements. Shedding Skin is a celebration of identity, of oneself being a part of something much bigger. The cell on the sleeve is Ejimiwe’s – it was taken as part of a biopsy with the assistance of medical professionals who the musician was introduced to as a result of working on the *Body Of Songs project – but it’s not unlike any that you’d find on yourself.
We all carry these parts of us around, the tiniest details, whatever our path through life. And we’re all going to hit our share of bumps. Ghostpoet sees that, and the way through it: one foot in front of the other, every step a difference. And just because you’re not living the dream today, it doesn’t mean that tomorrow won’t see it flower. A great reveal is only as imminent as you choose to make it.
Shedding Skin is the biggest and boldest album yet from an artist who has always stood apart from the sound-alikes. He’s still learning, just as we all are. He’s still growing, just as we all are. But this is the beginning of the next phase for Ghostpoet, and a collection that sets a new precedent as his very best work yet, a dream record to accompany our journey through whatever hands we’re dealt, one day at a time.