BEST NEW INDIE: YOU SIMPLY HAVEN'T HEARD ANYTHING LIKE “UMBRELLAR” BEFORE
On their newest single, Sudanese-born-Minneapolis-based indie auteur Dua Saleh's "Umbrellar" portrays a relationship as an alien love affair.
Dua Saleh has a knack for re-casting the mundane into strange, unseen new shapes. Lyrically, topically, their hip-hop infused indie rock focuses on the familiar - love, relationships, family. Sonically, it's the same thing. Dua Saleh's songs are built around beats, synths, the occasional instrument, and their otherworldly vocals, managing to sound like Nina Simone and Bjork simultaneously. That's not even to mention the lyrics themselves, abstract and strange to the point of surreality.
“UMBRELLAR” - DUA SALEH
Consider these lines from the first verse of "Umbrellar,"
"Her father owns a factory making corn (chomp chomp)
Told me that she wasn't natural born (what?)
Stolen off a planet I was torn (hmm)
Chamomile’s a luxury adorned (ahh)"
"Umbrellar" seems to be about the difficulties of a young and perhaps forbidden love. Yet, under Saleh's pen, they become like a chronicle of an intergalactic priestess on their last night on Earth. In the morning, they will invade the laboratory and re-take the stargate. Who knows if they'll ever see one another again?
This strangeness, this ambiguity, this magical realism and artful poetry is a good representation of what makes Dua Saleh so special, so hair-raisingly unique. Simply put, you simply haven't heard anything like Dua Saleh before. And this coming from someone who's listened to music 16 hours a day for several decades at this point. It's like someone taking the base ingredients of a 7-year old's birthday and using them to build the Leaning Tower of Pisa instead.
Perhaps it has something to do with Dua Saleh's unique identity. Saleh is a non-binary musician originally born in Sudan before having to flee to Minnesota during the Darfur war. Saleh likely knows a thing or two about being an outsider. Perhaps it's this lens that makes their worldview so unique and one-of-a-kind. Whatever the reason, the indie landscape is much, much better for it.
"Umbrellar" is the newest single from Dua Saleh's upcoming new EP Rosetta, following up last year's excellent debut, Nur. Nur was rooted in hip-hop and artful electronica, a la FKA Twigs. "Umbrellar" sounds much more indie rock, with honest-to-God guitars, drumbeats, and Dua Saleh singing, which is then slathered in reverb and served chilled. It sounds somewhat like if fellow Minnesotan artists Low were to front Le Tigre, singing lyrics written by Man Ray.
In case you couldn't tell, that's the highest possible recommendation from We Are: The Guard. We're officially stoked out of our minds for Rosetta, and to continue to watch Dua Saleh's fascinating evolution.
J. Simpson occupies the intersection between criticism, creativity, and academia. Based out of Portland, Or., he is the author of Forestpunk, an online journal/brand studying the traces of horror, supernatural, and the occult through music, fashion and culture. He plays in the dreamfolk band Meta-Pinnacle with his partner Lily H. Valentine, with whom he also co-founded Bitstar Productions, a visual arts collective focused on elevating Pop Culture to High Art.