Ghostpoet, Obaro Ejimiwe, has returned with his most provocative and interesting album to date. Tim Hughes looks forward to hearing it live

Obaro Ejimiwe is getting wise, and a little morbid. While still only 34 years-old, the artist better known as Ghostpoet is taking stock of his life and pondering the nature of existence.

“Not much has changed since I was about six and I first realised that, at some point, I was actually going to die,” he says.

The less than cheerful outlook is the starting point for the hypnotic Live>Leave, from new album Dark Days + Canapés.

It might seem a strange thing for a twice Mercury-nominated songwriter to come up with, given his eager following and the explosion of critical acclaim for his fourth album, which has seen the downtempo soul searcher move away from his beats-led earlier tunes towards a fuller band sound.

The serious theme continues on Immigrant Boogie, in which south Londoner Obaro chats about the terrifying journeys made by those refugees attempting to get into Europe on leaky, overcrowded boats across the Mediterranean.

“No-one knows how many on the boat,” he raps on the song. “Violent skies, won’t tell us where to go.”

He explains: “I’m usually more comfortable writing in more ambiguous terms, but as my wife said, but for an accident of birth, it could have been any of us in one of those flimsy boats, risking everything to try and get our families to a safe place.”

It’s typical of a record which taps into a sense of unease hanging in the air.

Central to the feel of the record is Obaro’s choice of producer.

“On previous records, the production side of things has run along 50:50 lines,” he explains, “But this time around, I wanted to see what would happen if I relaxed that a little.”

He teamed up with producer, writer and guitarist Leo Abrahams, best known for his work with Brian Eno and Jon Hopkins (Small Craft On A Milk Sea) and Wild Beasts (Present Tense) as well as his own solo albums. The two clicked immediately.

“I went to his studio in East London,” recalls Obaro. “The thing that struck me about him was that he was impossible to faze. I was describing the mood I was after in quite fanciful, surreal terms, and yet he knew exactly how to translate that into music.”

The results of those early sessions – which saw guitarist Joe Newman assisting, fleshing out guitar parts on the early demos – established the momentum of what followed.

On the song Woe Is Meee, his vocals sit beneath the surface. “That was something that felt right for this record,” he says.

“I wanted the vocals to be part of the tapestry of the songs rather than dominating them. But then maybe that’s how I feel about the world and my place in it at the moment.”

While previous album Shedding Skin featured a revolving door roll-call of guest artists, the only vocal cameos this time around come care of singer-songwriter EERA and Massive Attack’s Daddy G, who reciprocates Ghostpoet’s appearance on Massive Attack’s Come Near Me with a turn on the sinuous subterranean Woe Is Meee.

Named after the Japanese word meaning “death from overwork”, Karoshi is another standout on the album – all intensifying sequenced beats and unyielding guitar played out over perhaps Obaro’s bleakest vocal turn on the record: “Stock pile food, Panic button glued in place, And we’re... fighting for what?” he sings.

“The title actually came after I finished the song,” he explains, “But actually it was perfect in terms of what I was trying to evoke – this sense of people feeling powerless in a polarised world... in which technology is supposed to be making us all happier.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before ‘karoshi’ is co-opted into the English language, because that’s the way it’s all going.

“All these apps like Uber or whatever, promise you ease of use and less steps to satisfaction, but obviously, it comes at a price.

“The modern world is also very good at putting in systems that distract from human hardship on a massive scale.”

On the wittily-titled Dopamine If I Do, meanwhile, Obaro contemplates and contrasts the idealistic vision of our hyper-connected world with the epidemic of isolation it is responsible for.

He says: “I wrote this one for any minds struggling to make sense of an increasingly connected but lonesome world.”

On recording the album, he says the moments he relished the most usually came when his plans were supplanted by something entirely unexpected in the studio: be it the hysterical edge conferred upon Freakshow by the manic laughter of the gospel choir who actually turned up to sing on another song, or the slurring somnambulant intimacies of Blind As A Bat –of which Obaro says: “One record I was listening to a lot was Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock.

“One thing they did on that record was lay down the basic tracks and get in different string players to play whatever came into their heads.

“Then once they’d all gone, they reviewed what they had and overlaid their favourite parts, just the same way as you would with samples.

“That was also the song on which we dropped beads into a baby grand, just to see what would happen.”

Next Friday he returns to play songs from the album and those from his previous three albums.

Eight years in to his career, Tooting-raised Obaro admits he never expected to be able to make a career out of his passion for music.

Between graduating at Coventry University in 2004 and finally releasing his 2011 debut Cash & Carry Me Home, Obaro got by doing a series of customer service jobs.

His songs are, however, the perfect vehicle for his darker introspection. “That’s definitely where all those feelings go,” he laughs, “And it’s for the best that they stay there.”

His fourth album is, without doubt, his most inspired to date, though he is typically self-effacing. “There’s a sort of life-force that Leo and the other musicians brought to the record,” he says, “and that was crucial. I want people to listen to the songs and be able to say, ‘So it isn’t just me then? Phew.’”

* Dark Days + Canapés is available on limited white vinyl, standard vinyl, CD and download.