When Britain’s Obaro Ejimiwe released “Cash and Carry Me Home” as Ghostpoet, all the pieces seemed to fit. You had minimal electronic beats and synths, lines delivered in a raspy, broken cadence bordering on spoken word and a pace which brought Massive Attack and Tricky to mind. The prospect of a fresh voice in chilled out hip hop music was an exciting one. On his latest record, Shedding Skin, the skin could well be a metaphor for all the things which made that original single so appealing.

The music is provided by Ejimiwe’s live band and the compositions are solid as the organic drum breaks sound great blended with synths and organs. Opening track “Off Peak Dreams” mixes a strong jazzy break with intermittent organ sounds. The vocals are the weak point here. Rather than speaking the lines in a low, smoky whisper, Ejimiwe attempts, unsuccessfully, to sing it as though it were a pop song. The weak songwriting coupled with the amateur night delivery makes for a disheartening opener.

Guest vocalist Nadine Shah saves “X Marks the Spot” from a similar fate. While the songwriting picks up here and continues to improve as the record goes along, it’s her haunting contribution to the track that captivates. Shah also shows up on “That Ring Down the Drain Feeling Again,” one of the few highlights on the record. The distorted guitar notes and Shah’s delivery make the song. “Be Right Back, Moving House” also lets a feature carry the track. Here Ghostpoet goes back to what he does well, a modest talking delivery while Paul Smith handles the melody. It’s Smith and the guitar lines throughout the track give it an effective emotional weight.

The gust vocalists serve another purpose; Ejimiwe has a tick in his voice– a subtle but very repetitive shift in pitch on the last word of every line. In addition to that, each word is accompanied by an inexplicable extra syllable in the form of “ah.” It’s the same kind of effect Mike Doughty uses, but it manages to sound authentically interesting. It becomes very noticeable on “Simmer Down” due to the song’s sparse landscape. Part of the reason it’s tolerable at all is because it’s so often masked by the addition of the guests.

There’s not a lot to get enthusiastic about here. The music is the strength of this record and tracks like “Sorry My Love, it’s You Not Me” probably could have stood stronger as instrumentals. Much of the record gives the same impression. While Ghostpoet’s rhymes are solid, they’re delivered in an odd middle ground where he can’t seem to decide whether to sing or speak and the result is the worst of both. The additional marble-mouthed style makes you wish Ejimiwe’s band would just take over.

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