Abdullah Siddiqui’s new album is a softly intense work of introspection
Siddiqui's third album melds the cerebral and the visceral with grace
On January 22nd, 2021, mere months after finishing his sophomore album Heterotopia and even sooner since it completed its staggered release, AbdullahSiddiqui dropped dead Beat poets, a surprise third album that the artist says is his favourite work so far. He says he is letting his guard down and choosing to romanticize his experiences of youth, warts and all. The new album takes us along on a ride through grit, grime, and tenderness as it embraces the wonderful mundanity of youth in all its squalor and splendour.
While Heterotopia offered a vast and sprawling soundscape and had features from Natasha Noorani, Aima Baig, Maanu, Shamoon Ismail, and Meesha Shafi, dead Beat poets in comparison, is sharply introspective and more modest yet no less gorgeously produced, marking a significant moment of transition for the artist. Siddiqui explores new sonic terrain in this album: a fluid amalgamation of diverse musical styles results in a unique mix of electro-pop that is fresh but still true to Siddiqui’s sound – an organic extension of his style rather than a departure from it. In service to its stylistic blend and more intimate weather, the album features acoustic instruments more prominently; we hear guitars, piano, string arrangements, and even a banjo.
While the sound and production on this album are nuanced and complex much like his previous efforts, there are no indulgent embellishments here. Instead of a reliance on polyphony, Siddiqui strips back layers to produce rawer sounding songs. The rhythm sections are largely unadorned and there is often a tighter focus on melody and lyrics while the electronic instrumentation offer atmospheric swells that fill up the space in between. Siddiqui’s silken vocal performance is dynamic and deeply evocative across the board: tender in some places and darkly menacing in others. He maintains his characteristic light and subtle tone as he croons softly on most songs but also displays a beautifully controlled falsetto such as in “centrifuge” and an earthy, aggressive inflection in the near chants found in the refrain of “moths” or the grimy, implacable verses of “video game”.
The album’s opening track, “lowest common denominator” is a spirited yet gentle welcome into the intimate space of the album: while we are unmistakably taking in the trademark Abdullah Siddiqui sound, we are not in an arena with him, we are in a quieter pensive place. The song builds with sentimental synthesizer swirls atop a simple piano melody and the faint pound of sparse percussion. Only second song in, Abdullah Siddiqui surprises us by switching gears as “centrifuge”, a slow number careful in its beauty, bears the unmistakable influence of neo-soul; a clean and melodic guitar riff offers an expressive backdrop for the sweet cadences of Siddiqui’s voice which is almost reminiscent of American neo-soul and R&B artist Daniel Caesar.
When he moves on to sing about yearning and loss, his palette grows sober and warm: songs such as “scars” and the album closer “flick” feature acoustic guitar arpeggios citing a contemporary western folk influence while “maestro” features a solemn piano chord progression ornamented by a moody synthesizer that breaks like waves over the melody. The instrumental “intermission” evokes early hour urban escapades with its use of a humble banjo melody, unintelligible background vocals, and a billowing cinematic synth. The album’s use of atmospheric sounds such as crickets chirping deepens the feeling of intimacy and domesticity within the sonic landscape as well. The second half of the album is tightly constructed and delves into more shadowy ground. The tension is at its highest in the closing tracks of the album and Siddiqui’s instincts for the album are never clearer. “black hole” in particular, represents the tonal shift in his work while boasting richly layered yet restrained production.
dead Beat poets takes whirling shots at being meditative, cynical, desirous, and affectionate about its subject, but ultimately it is an album that achieves balance. The tone of the album can be sombre in places and darker than most of Siddiqui’s previous work but it also benefits from a distinct resolve that eliminates the possibility of despair. The rawness of emotion is partnered by intellectual reflections on various themes including but not limited to love, loss, and toxic masculinity. The gloom in some of Siddiqui’s observations are counterweighted with his wry humour as heard on “centrifuge” (no point beating a dead poet) and “gloves” (you might be dying of your art degree).
Always wearing many hats, Siddiqui carefully crafts his albums from the lyrics to production and mastering; and while his previous works are in no way unsophisticated or plain, on this album, we experience the songwriter maturing. We are audience to an artist conversant with themself and their style, extending it outwards while closely looking inwards. With his third album, Abdullah Siddiqui continues to prove himself a prodigious talent that never fails to impress with his evolving brilliance.
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