Review: Nabihah Iqbal – DREAMER

A wonderfully introspective album of indie-pop from the London born producer.
Henry Johnstone
Review: Nabihah Iqbal – DREAMER

How does one turn tragedy into triumph? It’s an age-old quandary that everyone encounters at some point in their life. It’s also a dilemma that perhaps musicians are better equipped to tackle, particularly when it comes to the creative process. Negative emotional experiences become fuel for the artistic fire.

Nabihah Iqbal is all too familiar with leaning into adversity. In early 2020, the London-born DJ and producer’s studio was burgled. She lost all her work, including her long-awaited second album. Shortly after, she received a call that her grandfather had suffered a brain haemorrhage. She flew to Pakistan the following day.

Being thousands of miles away from your studio equipment would surely pose a serious problem for any electronic music artist, but Nabihah saw it as a “blessing in disguise.” In lieu of coming up with song ideas via Ableton or Logic, she bought an acoustic guitar and a harmonium and went back to basics.

The result is DREAMER – a wonderfully introspective album and the producer's second for the illustrious Ninja Tune label. Raw, lo-fi, and undeniably pop, Nabihah processes all her grief and personal tragedy and reshapes it into aural affirmation – a tapestry of sweet melancholy etched with tinges of hope and rapture.

The indie touchstones on the album are immediately apparent, in the shoegazey haze of tracks like ‘A Tender Victory’ and ‘Dreamer’, or the Peter Hook-esque bassline in ‘This World Couldn’t See Us’. However, DREAMER doesn’t ditch the dance floor entirely. ‘Gentle Heart’ is a melodic house track drawing on the youthful exuberance of exploring a city’s nightlife, while ‘Sky River’ is an ecstatic instrumental lovingly indebted to trance (the tasteful kind).

Most striking is Nabihah’s vocal delivery. Her lyrics, more often than not, are carried out as poetry, with all her thoughts, fears and hopes rearranged into the vulnerability of spoken word.

For this writer at least, music is at its best when it is eclectic and cohesive; a melting pot of sounds and influences that strive to capture an underlying mood. DREAMER sees Nabihah deftly skipping between genres without ever sounding confused - surely the sign of an artist settling comfortably into her craft.

In a way DREAMER feels like a companion piece to Avalon Emerson’s & The Charm - another unexpected indie-pop album from an electronic DJ/producer released this year. Sonics aside, both are sublime examples of an electronic artist taking a risk. Something the industry could do with more of.

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