“Somewhere along the process of making my last album, I became hopelessly addicted to the feeling of writing songs with diaristic honesty and earnestness,” posted Abdullah Siddiqui when he announced the release of his current album, Dead Beat Poets: Part B.
“I made this album in a time when my professional life was the best it’s ever been and my personal life was collapsing altogether,” he confesses.
“So, I allowed myself to translate that messiness into sound, and to let go of some of the meticulousness that’s defined my work in the past. And I really hope you can find yourself somewhere in that mess and connect with me.”
Dead Beat Poets: Part B is everything you’d expect from Abdullah Siddiqui and more. While the music is mostly electronically produced, it’s the hauntingly beautiful poetry, omnipresent in all of Abdullah Siddiqui’s songs, that draws you into the songs.
Abdullah Siddiqui’s newest album, Dead Beat Poets: Part B, is as much about unleashing the demons of heartbreak as it is about catharsis
The opening track, City Lights, starts off at a high pace. Abdullah Siddiqui describes it ‘almost like a rock song’, and that’s evident especially in the second half, where the tempo has picked up to a point where the guitar riffs at the end are being played at a dizzying speed. It’s like the song slips out a little bit of emotion in the start until the whole dam just bursts and all of the angst and anxiety comes pouring out.
The chorus verses go: “Quiet moments, unheld hands/ Hanging words and unkept plans/ Reverberate/ I fade away/ Like the city lights at the end of the tunnel/ Quiet moments, dark and still/ I stand alone and I always will/ Reverberate/ I fade away/ Like the city lights at the end of the tunnel”
Lyrically, the song expresses an overwhelming feeling of being unlovable. As if the singer is shying away and preparing himself to be unloved, reinforcing long-held beliefs that keep him from establishing and experiencing a truly healthy meaningful connection. Or even believing that he is worthy of one.
In complete contrast, Smoke Box begins with a gentle strumming, setting the song off on a lighter note. But that only lasts a few seconds. The strumming gives way to electronic beats that lend a pep to the song. However, even here, the ‘lightness’ in the music belies the somewhat bitter messaging of the song: about a relationship that’s trapped in its own toxic cycle.
There’s a line in Smoke Box that describes the crux of the song perfectly: I love too hard/ I won’t let you grow/ I’ll suffocate you/ I’m afraid to be alone
In a similar vein, Blood Went Bad which, like Smoke Box, is not one of Abdullah Siddiqui’s better tracks — they are simply ‘okay’ — is about a toxic relationship finally coming to an end, the singer having realised that it’s now over. That’s not a surprise considering the title of the song.
The message is only reinforced in the chorus: “The blood went bad/ What a shame, what a shame, it’s time to go/ I only knew you to three decimal places, this I know/ My coming of age has come undone in a rage, and now I need to grow/ The blood went bad, what a shame, what a shame, it’s time to go”
The mediocrity of Smoke Box and Blood Went Bad is made up by the next track, Tourist. Here we get a hint of the brilliance Abdullah Siddiqui has exhibited in some of his earlier works.
Tourist begins quietly with minimal music and a barely-there piano chord, keeping the focus firmly on the words, with Abdullah Siddiqui singing the opening lyrics with a quiet rage: “Don’t know what happened/ How dare you give me one more hint of your compassion/ My bitterness implies something alarming/ I give you everything, I don’t know what you’re guarding”
The song picks up pace after this but only ever so slightly. It’s at the chorus where it comes to life. With the sound of static, a mix of percussive sounds combined with almost hypnotic audio distortions, Abdullah croons in a higher key:
“You’re a tourist in my pain/ Drifting past and feigning grace/ Is this you, has nothing changed?/ Collect your stories for the day/ Leave me bare then turn the page/ Is this you, has nothing changed?”
The song is about trusting someone unworthy of the honour and finally being able to see this person for who they are, and their hypocrisy. The sound design in this track is absolutely mesmerising. Just when you think it can’t get better, Abdullah keeps adding layers upon layers until the very end, where it all diffuses into a short, beautiful piano solo.
Surface, the only collaboration with another vocalist on the album, features the talents of Talha Anjum. This soft, meditative number is sung with a simple piano accompanying the vocals, with violins joining in as the song progresses. Surface is a heartfelt ballad about wanting, needing, one more gesture to show, to prove love, belonging, attachment and worthiness.
He sings: “Take me on, I feel broken and so erratic/ You’ll leave, but before you do, cut through the static/ You decide whether you think that I’m worth it/ I’m not fine, could you pull me to the surface/ Tell me that I’m worth it, pull me to the surface”
Popular rapper Talha Anjum (from Young Stunners) who has made a career out of singing angsty numbers, sounds surprisingly restrained here. Gone is the ’hood attitude, the bravado, the flashiness attributed to his previous work. In his section, which he raps in Urdu, he comes across as contemplative.
These lines that Talha Anjum delivers stand out: “Mera qalam, meray hunar ka ghulam nahin/ Meray qalam ko na de saka lagaam koi/ [My pen is not a slave to my skill/ My pen cannot be controlled] So hold on to me if I’m worth it/ Or just let me go if it’s hurting, I’ll resurface”
There is a strength, an optimism, an inner confidence in Talha’s lyrics vs the ready-to-shatter-into-a-million-pieces message we keep getting in Abdullah’s lyrics. It reminds me of Abdullah’s collaboration with Shamoon Ismail in Kids, where a similar contrast was apparent between the two artists.
The opening musical piece in his next track, Halo, which almost sounds like a distorted sarangi, is beautiful. Halo is a haunting, hard-to-pin-down orchestral track, both due to its complex sound design — in which musical and sound layers keep getting added and removed — and cryptic lyrics that leave much open to interpretation of the listener.
Dead Beat Poets: Part B ends with two tracks that are titled as second parts of two songs in the album. There’s Orchestra (Surface, Part 2) and Freehand (City Lights, Part 2).
In Surface, the singer is crying out, against his better judgement, to be rescued whereas, in Orchestra, he wants a spectator to his ruin. He is self-aware enough to see the push-and-pull of toxic relationships, which trigger a similar chemical response in the brain as addiction does to a druggie: poisonous and going nowhere.
In one of the verses he sings: “I can’t help myself I’m lonely/ I’m only a figment of your condescension/ But I can’t make you want to come rescue me”
This relationship will ruin him. It has already ruined him. But he is addicted to the drama and this is the drug he wants, even if it will destroy him completely.
In the concluding song, Freehand (City Lights, Part 2), a slow mournful number, the sound design includes a background ‘noise’ to the music. Listening to Freehand is like listening to a song that plays in the middle of a movie over which the scenes are playing out.
At the start you get a gentle hum, as if we’re driving on the road while the song is being played. After the chorus, that suspicion is confirmed as the sound of the brakes, a car door opening and closing can be heard, followed by the sound of crickets in the background. Clearly, Freehand is sung during a journey, the sound of crickets giving way to the sound of seagulls, indicating a closeness to the sea. A cell phone vibrates, a car door closes… and boom! the song comes on full blast. All background ‘noise’ is gone completely.
Abdullah Siddiqui croons his all-consuming loneliness to electronic beats and the cello: “Cigarette in one hand, my self-worth in the other/ No hands left free to wipe my tears/ Silhouettes in freehand, our silence is a cover/ My eyes shut tight to curb my fear”
Dead Beat Poets: Part B is as much about Abdullah Siddiqui unleashing his demons from where they had been festering in the deepest pits of darkness within him, as it is about finding some form of catharsis.
Published in Dawn, ICON, October 3rd, 2021