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Nabihah Iqbal
Dreamer Matthew Horton , April 27th, 2023 07:23

The artist FKA-Throwing Shade returns on gauzy, hallucinatory form, finds Matthew Horton

It’s spring 2023 and we’re still caught in the shadow of Covid-19, struggling just to catch up with ourselves, get back to where we were. Nabihah Iqbal is the latest artist to re-emerge, finally, this second full-length album coming five years after debut Weighing Of The Heart, its completion thwarted by burglary, a mercy mission to family in Pakistan and a pandemic that kept her there for months. It’s a wonder it sounds so blissful. Perhaps the clue’s in the title.

First appearing a decade ago with the broken beats and icy Knife-like synth-pop of her alias Throwing Shade, Iqbal has reverted to her given name to embrace her heritage, but the switch also marked a change in style. Where her Throwing Shade output was stark and clearly aimed at the club, the warm and trippy Weighing Of The Heart looked to the inner recesses of the mind, with woozy shoegaze rubbing up against spidery goth-rock, the occasional trance excursion the only concession to the dancefloor. It retained some of that earlier sharpness though. Dreamer is more diffuse, layered, fuzzed right up. Returning to Iqbal’s debut in hindsight is quite the shock – all its clean lines, airless spaces and crystalline notes almost too prim.

Extra time has bred extra confidence, and everything’s bigger. Dreamer is a surrender to wide, blurry, technicolour horizons, as unreal and otherworldly as its name suggests. At its basic level, the elements are simple – indie-pop, a little more shoegaze, a lot more trance – but extra waves of electronic wash and vocals so multitracked they’re choral make it labyrinthine enough to get lost in. The lush near-seven-minute intro ‘In Light’ – its 4AD guitars shimmering with reverb, Iqbal’s “In light, you wake” mantra ever-circling – pulls you in and keeps you enveloped.

Within, the benign tension is between sugar-sweet noise-pop and trance-house. The title track twinkles and swings, all gauzy and surfy, and the juddering ‘This World Couldn’t See Us’ is a delicate take on The Cure’s ‘A Forest’ (a song Iqbal’s covered live), but she’s frequently drawn to the rave. Remember Sunscreem? You can almost see the fractals and feel the whip of trustafarian dreads as ‘Sunflower’ wriggles along.

‘Gentle Heart’ and ‘Sky River’ go deeper still, the former pulsating around crispy snares, flickering hi-hat and wobbly 808 State synth-bass, the latter raising hands to the kind of anthemic rave riffs Faithless would shamelessly wheel out. There’s a united psychedelic purpose that lets the glow-stick wig-outs and dream-pop hang together, a rapturous disorientation.

Lyrically, Dreamer is as imprecise as its music is hallucinatory, which undeniably fits. Freedom, sunlight and love are the touchstones, sentiments and concepts that prevail. If that’s a bit ‘hello trees, hello sky’, Iqbal only really comes fully unstuck sighing lines like “Kiss the heavens/And the moonbeams” on hippie frippery ‘Sweet Emotion (lost in devotion)’. It’s beatless. Perhaps she’s too exposed. Subsumed in Dreamer’s tripped-out sunburst euphoria is where she truly shines.