In Rotation: Nabihah Iqbal, Heligoland, Opus Science Collective (Review)

An impressive debut that feels both nostalgic and original; exquisitely composed dreampop; and super funky future funk.
Nabihah Iqbal

In Rotation is a regular Opus feature where I post short reviews of noteworthy music, both new and old, that I’ve been listening to lately.

Weighing of the Heart by Nabihah Iqbal

Weighing of the Heart - Nabihah Iqbal

Nabihah Iqbal is many things: a human rights lawyer, a black belt in karate, and a regular DJ on England’s NTS online radio station where she showcases music from around the globe (due, no doubt, to her background in ethnomusicology). That last one makes sense when you listen to her Throwing Shade project, through which she creates what she calls “cosmic R&B,” a hazy blend of R&B, dance pop, and otherworldly electronica.

But Iqbal’s latest, Weighing of the Heart, is her first release under her own name. And not surprisingly, it’s a shift from “cosmic R&B” to a blend of guitar and electronics that evokes New Order (“Something More”), wiry ’80s post-punk (“Saw U Twice”), and Everything But the Girl’s forays into dance music (“Zone 1 to 6000,” “Untitled Friday”). Which is to say, it’s simply fantastic. And her voice, which moves from spectral to soulful, world-weary to fragile, only adds to the music’s enigma.

Although there are obvious touchstones and references throughout Weighing of the Heart, Nabihah Iqbal ultimately sounds like nobody so much as herself. Due no doubt to her long stints as a DJ, Iqbal is skilled at distilling and synthesizing her numerous influences in a way that feels familiar while also showcasing her own unique perspective.

Coriallo by Heligoland

Coriallo - Heligoland

Would it have made sense for anyone besides Robin Guthrie to produce Heligoland’s Coriallo? I suspect your answer will be “Absolutely not” within the first 15 seconds of “Ełk” and its blissed out guitar cascades. The Paris-based Australian trio pick up right where Guthrie’s Cocteau Twins left off, albeit with a solemnity that’s reminiscent of Low’s glacial compositions.

Each one of Dave Olliffe’s guitar notes is immaculate in tone and purity, as if crafted from the finest glass, and Steve Wheeler’s basslines are subtle and understated. Meanwhile, Karen Vogt’s voice rarely engages in the sort of glossolalia gymnastics that Elizabeth Fraser performed so effortlessly; instead, Vogt’s voice is richer and deeper, drawing out every single word for maximum emotional affect.

When Vogt sings “We watch the sky and ache for love to lift us high/Our hungry minds are never satisfied with what is real” (“Anavo”) or “The heart is programmed to be broken” (“Trust”) backed by her bandmates’ wistful arrangements, it’s the sweetest sounding existential angst you’re ever likely to hear.

Girls on Bikes by Opus Science Collective

Girls on Bikes - Opus Science Collective

It isn’t entirely accurate to call Brighton’s Opus Science Collective a band. They’re actually a music production company that does soundtrack work for video games, YouTube videos, films, TV series, and multimedia projects. As such, it’s tempting to view their extensive catalog as little more than a pitch for their services, especially when they release albums inspired by Ghostbusters and Sonic the Hedgehog.

But I’m OK with that because the music on Girls on Bikes is still pretty enjoyable. Recalling at various times vintage video games, anime, ’80s synth-pop, and R&B — sometimes all in the same song — the Collective’s work is solidly in the realm of future funk, emphasis on the funk.

Yes, there are nostalgic aspects galore in these five songs, as is the case with anything in the future funk/vaporwave realm. But Opus Science Collective ultimately relies on the tried and true for success: catchy melodies, crisp beats, and hooks galore. From the title track’s bouncing synth lines (complete with synthetic cowbell) to the Midnight meets Chromeo meets Donkey Kong vibe of “Boys Fall Easy” (my favorite track) to “The Ride Home“ s “beach party at sunset” vibe, Girls on Bikes is 18 minutes of retro-futuristic pop perfection.

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