Shedding a stage name is a risky move for a musician. They remain the same person, but it's hard not to see them as a different artist. Formerly known by the name Throwing Shade, Nabihah Iqbal has decided for her debut full-length album to use her real name, and the result is a record that feels more intentional, well-crafted, and memorable than anything she's created in the past.
When Weighing the Heart was announced in October, Iqbal said that the decision to use her real name was a mark of pride in being a British Asian woman making electronic music. Only hints of the atmospheric electronics and pulsating beats of Throwing Shade appear here. Instead, the dreamy guitar music and dark post-punk of the British Isles, particularly The Cure, Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain informs the moody collection.
The jazzy, club-footed piano that opens the record on "Eden Piece" is an outlier. More indicative of the record's sound is the reverb-drenched guitar that snakes between the notes and beneath the wordless vocal. When Iqbal's distinctive talk-singing finally appears on "Something More," there is an earnestness and a pleading feeling to it that cuts through the purposeful murk of the jittery, dreamy rock of the record.
Iqbal performs, despite her limitations as a singer, in a magnetic and playful way. The urgent single "Zone 1 to 6000" is delivered with a rap-like cadence and an effortless cool that situates the song somewhere between Zadie Smith and sci-fi. "Saw U Twice," by contrast to its thumping drums, is a delicate and almost breathless come-on; It's a far cry from the resigned drift of a track like "Slowly" or "Feels So Right"'s blurred beauty.
There are moments on Weighing of the Heart where Iqbal perhaps still has a tendency to lean too heavily on atmospherics rather than melody or songcraft - such as the plodding instrumental "Alone Together" - but mostly she keeps the balance between mysterious restraint and expansive soundscapes. "In Visions" in particular anchors intertwined melodies with funky polyrhythms, and closer "Untitled Friday" heads to the dance floor with muted drum machines, cowbells, house organs and muttered lyrics.
Weighing of the Heart doesn't really feel like a reinvention, but a refinement and a bold journey for Iqbal toward finding her own identity as a child of diaspora. Its sound may be a throwback that conjures a million comparisons, but Nabihah Iqbal keeps things fresh, fusing rock tropes with dance music bliss in ways that are exciting and unusual, signalling her fresh point of view and enormous amount of potential.
Weighing of the Heart is out on CD, vinyl, and digital formats on Friday December 1st. Photo by Shahir Iqbal.