Ghostpoet’s latest is a moody, atmospheric haunted house of an album that represents another step in his artistic evolution.
Ghostpoet has always been a serious artist; both thematically and sonically, his work has rarely borne out much levity. It makes a sort of sense, then, that the evolution of his sound over this past decade is as profoundly instructive a reflection of the world we live in as any that an artist managed in the 2010s. Take 2011 debut Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam — a mostly-synth textured effort informed by some neo-jazz elements, with everything comfortably rooted in the glitchy house beats and half-tempo flow of trip-hop. Even here, there were hints of what was to come, from the deep-voiced, mumbly drawl to ambient sound accompanying even the most bouncy production, to the pronounced gloom of both the lyrical content and the claustrophobic music. Four albums later — each successive effort evincing a logical progression and clear refinement of sound — the artist has delivered I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep, and indeed Ghostpoet here demonstrates a distinct weariness: “Fade to black and credits roll / Find the financiers / There is nothing / Black hole.” But the power of Ghostpoet’s latest is in how he transforms spiritual exhaustion into his most clear-headed, punishing declaration.
The sonic atmosphere of I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep presents an altogether murkier, harder-to-pin-down experience — even as it still possesses the somber tone of earlier work. The rapping that cropped up on Ghostpoet’s 2010s albums, which always felt locked in battle with the electronic soundscape, is now mostly gone; instead, vocals consist largely of amorphous spoken-word, and his deep, slow bass slicks the production like oil. In fact, this hypnotic affect is the album’s defining characteristic: the hip-hop percussives and driving guitars that have slowly dissipated across Ghostpoet’s discography are now mostly dissonance and static, less part of the rhythm than intimations of noise-rock. The effect is an industrial sound, but with a sense of unease built atop that foundation, thanks to insistent distortion, tinkling piano, electronic squeaks, chirping birds, and synthetic horns. Most sense of melody comes through GP’s guttural voice, which occasionally lurches into a jarring boom-bap tempo that reinforces the record’s commitment to sonic discord.
At times, the sheer heaviness can feel downright oppressive: there is an inescapable foreboding to Ghostpoet’s lyrics, as brutal cynicism collides with righteous anger, and the haze of this R&B-shoegaze sound wants for some baroque quality to lighten things up a bit. But there is enough variance to keep the album’s sound from stagnating: on “This Train Wreck of a Life” (titled as if it should be exhibit A in an argument for Ghostpoet’s need to chill) ethereal French vocals and synthed-out water effects delicately build to a ‘second act’ of jazz bass lines that usher in Ghostpoet’s harsh sort-of croon, before swelling strings end the track on an eerie crescendo. I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep is a haunted house of an album, a mixture of earnestness and oversaturation and freak-fringe sensibilities. It’s a work of new goth musicality that is both evocative and atmospheric, rooted in a certain obviousness of mood, but tough to shake.
Published as part of Obscure Object | Q2 2020 Issue.