DUBAI: Wheeled out to sing for Will.i.am, Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock whenever they pass through Dubai, but far more often found howling pop covers on the UAE’s after-hours scene, Hamdan Al-Abri has long been regarded among the GCC’s most underutilized musical talents.
But the Emirati vocalist broke a long original-recording hiatus in 2017 with Abri and the Dreamfleet, a lightning-bolt collab that pit the singer’s soulful delivery against smart, mellow productions by Dubai-based musician-producers Adriano K and Megadon Betamax. After landing fully formed with “We Fly,” the trio’s trail went a little cold, likely because Betamax relocated to Saudi Arabia.
This new constructed-via-broadband EP, appropriately titled “Pieces,” apparently picks up where we left them: At the end of the party, dialing a more subdued — borderline melancholic — brand of chilled, downtempo, electro-soul grooves.
“Life is all so short/A second lost/Our lives are like a fading picture,” Abri sings on the opening title track over crestfallen synth chords, plaintive passive guitar and a relentless disco beat somewhere between the dancefloor and the kitchen drawer. “I would rather stay dead”, runs “Vindicate” — a portrait of a reluctant lover — over a lumbering processed bass-line. “I feel like I’m going nowhere,” echoes over mournful minor keys on “Midnight Drive”.
Only “Anotion” breaks with the numbing four-on-the-floor to embrace a more nuanced global beat – and a whiff of optimism – on the EP’s closest thing to a singalong. Uniformly mid-tempo, with minimal harmonic or dynamic variation, the tunes otherwise nod along discontently, neither upbeat enough for the club, nor layered enough to reward a deeper listen.
If only the Dreamfleet had swooped in sooner. It’s impossible not to make comparisons with Abri’s other 2020 release, the far more arresting “Mallam” — a trippy IDM EP in collaboration with Elie Afif, a jazz double-bassist who has apparently reinvented himself as a thrilling beatmaker in the thrall of Flying Lotus’ LA beat scene. The amount of sonic space covered in that record’s 21 minutes is a revelation next to the equal runtime of “Pieces,” which suffers in contrast.