Dreamer Isioma: achingly-cool, community-focused pop from a future indie hero

Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’ll see opening the bill for your favourite act. The Chicago singer-songwriter and guitarist is making young people feel seen and heard through their soulful and spellbinding songs

You might have heard that a vibe shift is coming. Don’t be surprised if Dreamer Isioma has something to do with it. Based in Chicago, the 21-year-old multi-genre artist wants listeners to take the opportunity to think deeper; about themselves, sure, but also about the universe at large. Their debut album, ‘Goodnight Dreamer’, centres on a stylish character – also called Dreamer – who embarks on a multi-dimensional journey through time and space in search of answers to the big questions about life, the universe, and everything.

“When I began the project, I was just somebody who wanted answers,” Dreamer tells NME. “I had a lot of questions that needed answers, and as I was researching my philosophical questions about life and what is happening here, I kind of wrote my own answers.” In this way, they say, the album ended up being “a science experiment through and through.”

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That playfulness and sense of discovery is abundantly clear from the very first listen. A kaleidoscopic mix of genres, ‘Goodnight Dreamer’ blends inspirations from Afrobeats and ‘50s rock’n’roll to more contemporary pop and electro into something that feels genuinely fresh, newly discovered.

“I don’t like to be boxed in,” says Dreamer. “I know that people around me listen to all different genres, so why wouldn’t I make music of all types of genres? I think what people gravitate towards most with me is the message and my aura, the energy of the song.”

And there is no shortage of energy. The experiment, it seems, did turn up some answers. ‘Goodnight Dreamer’ is by turns questioning and assured, lyrics roving between uncertainty and absolute confidence. “It was hard, honestly,” they say. “I grew up more trying to find God than trying to find myself. I grew up in a Christian home. And therefore, when I moved away and became more independent and really just looked inward, it was hard because I wasn’t like everyone else around me.”

This sense of isolation has obviously led to him looking outwards, reaching out a hand for those other people who feel different, isolated, or weird. “I think that people will also see themselves in my writing, which is what I’m most excited about. I make music for people who aren’t like everyone else, or who are just trying to find themselves and figure out what’s going on with [them] or the world around them. And hopefully, that’s what people hear.”

dreamer isioma
Credit: Daniel Delgado

One gets the sense that Dreamer’s music is as much about connection as it is about discovery. From the infatuated ecstasy of ‘Quick! Sand!’ to ‘Crying in the Club’s psych-pop tale of living through heartbreak and existential crises, ‘Goodnight Dreamer’ veers between longing and loss. The two are especially tangled together on the fluid, grooving ‘Bad Ting’, which follows the cycle of love and pain. In the video, a bloodied Dreamer appears with an arrow hanging out of his midriff, then topples into the sea as he tries to wrench it out. As Dreamer plunges towards the bottom, fighting for their life, a hand reaches out and a winged, Midsummer Night’s Dream-esque character pulls them ashore. As the video rolls on, it starts to become clear that the winged creature, Dreamer’s love, is probably the one who stabbed them.

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“To me, that symbolises how, when you love someone, they’re the ones who save you. But also, they can be the ones who hurt you the most, because they have such power in your life,” Dreamer says. “And I feel like that’s something that happens to everyone, whether you love your partner, you love your job, you love God or the universe. That thing can bring you so much joy. But also it can be taken away so quickly, in the blink of an eye. It’s a concept that’s pretty wild to me.”

It’s clear that Dreamer has carefully considered what the vehicle of his music means, and what it’s used for. Their broader vision encompasses not just creating work that builds connections and helps people to understand themselves a bit better, but also what that can allow Dreamer to do in real-world terms. Having already worked with the Xanderana Foundation, a medical and humanitarian charity run by their mother, Dreamer is well aware of the significance of community support.

“Building community is incredibly important to me. I truly believe that if the youth can all just come to one solid ground, we can make the world a better place. Because the world is literally in our hands,” they say. “Like, we didn’t make global warming, but we’re stuck with it. And now we’ve got to figure out what to do about it. I want to build a militia of youth to help better the world, and right now, I guess music is my start. Long story short, I just want to make the world a better place. And music is the site.”

Dreamer Isioma’s debut album ‘Goodnight Dreamer’ is out February 23

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