Something about Blue Magic Gentle Magic is imprinted on me, I think, because I am continually drawn back to these fragments and songs. Nabihah Iqbal released her debut album under her own name (she’d previously used the moniker Throwing Shade) on Ninja Tune back in 2017. In the past couple years, she’d been working on her next record until her studio was burgled and she lost pretty much everything she’d recorded for it, save for some random, lost bits on USBs, Soundcloud, etc. Look, losing all the things I’m working on to a computer crash or, in this case, burglary is a massive fear so there was an immediate, visceral connection to these pieces. But the tracks stand on their own and unexpectedly this has become my favorite of Iqbal’s work.
There’s an unsurprising rawness to Blue Magic Gentle Magic that creates a sense of intimacy with the work. Even as ‘fragments’ or ‘works-in-progress,’ Iqbal’s ideas are absolutely teeming with life, full of beauty and emotion. Her guitar playing, as ever, is exquisite. Eight-minute opener “Cube Room” is gorgeous. Languid guitar lines traverse through barren landscapes, worlds that seem stripped of life. Her guitar is this single, shimmering strip that meanders through the middle, lighting up everything it touches. Melancholic chord progressions evaporate into the ether, her guitar tone the sound of melting ice.
We learn so much more about her as a songwriter in these skeletal arrangements and gain more understanding of where her work originates. Her guitar playing on “The World Couldn’t Keep Us” is magic, creating a protective bubble around something or someone important and secret, keeping the world away as she shreds intoxicatingly into oblivion. It’s truly spellbinding. “The Story” loops downtrodden, hiss-laden piano as she recites lines of poetry that stick with you. “Tell me the story that has no beginning and never ends” could be a mantra for this entire release. It’s something pure that simply exists in a humble and beautiful way.
Snippets like the heart echoes of “Bookish,” the synth waves of “Halcyon,” or the field recordings on “Dawn Chorus Karachi” aren’t just filler, they’re the connective tissue in this story. They serve the same purpose like the individual characters that color people’s lives. Where songs like “Nowhere Else” or “Following a Feeling” most closely resemble her first record, they still fit here, especially the former with it’s shoegaze nods and pastel-infused timbres. Her guitar playing is the real star throughout Blue Magic Gentle Magic, but when she floats vocals into the mix, like on the stunning, heartbreaking “Wait 4 U,” I am eviscerated into dust, simply crushed beneath the beauty of the piece.
I honestly didn’t expect to be so taken with Blue Magic Gentle Magic, but it’s an incredible collection of music that, frankly, works pretty damn well as a proper album. Regardless of how it’s classified, what’s clear is that Nabihah Iqbal is an incredible songwriter. If this is just a bridge to what comes next, I couldn’t be more excited about what waits on the other side.