It’s been over two years since Shura’s ‘Touch‘ became an internet sensation for its gentle, airy tones and simple, yet endearing video which featured her and her friends kissing, regardless of gender. Follow up tracks ‘Indecision‘ and ‘2Shy‘ simply amplified the buzz which resulted in Shura (real name Alexandra Denton) being longlisted in the BBC’s Sound of 2015 poll and extensive airplay on Radio 1. It’s probably fair to say that demand for further material escalated quicker than Shura’s musical output which resulted in sporadic single releases and an eagerly awaited debut album. Finally, ‘Nothing’s Real’ has catapulted onto the music scene, however and brilliant it is too.
Musically, it’s fun and uplifting, mimicking 80’s synthpop yet its lyrics are more introspective and darker than the sugary melodies and uptempo tracks let on. Reviews consistently compare her work to ’80’s Madonna but it is unfair to box her into the confinements of this comparison. There are also moments of Janet Jackson, Blood Orange, Prince, Haim & Phil Collins scattered throughout but the album provides enough scope for her own distinct sound to shine through.
It’s undoubtedly Pop music, yet it’s not Pop music as that defined by global superstars such as Taylor Swift & Katy Perry. It’s more an off-centre, awkward Pop tinged with electro elements and far greater sincerity in its lyrical content than any Pop superstar could ever achieve.
For the most part, the album utilises gated percussion, shimmering synths and funk-influenced bass lines to mirror some of the best, catchiest Pop music of the ’80’s. This is the case on tracks such as ‘Indecision‘ (Shura’s ‘Holiday‘) and absolutely brilliant ‘Tongue Tied‘ (one of two tracks worked on by Pop mastermind Greg Kurstin and a track on which Patrice Rushen’s influence is clear) and rather space-y, sci-fi-influenced closing track ‘White Light‘. It’s deceptively catchy, however. Opening track ‘Nothing’s Real‘ could almost be placed in disco territory with its clinking percussion, strong riffs and catchy melodies, yet on closer inspection, the lyrics detail the more intimate matter of a panic attack. Much of the album follows suit – its uptempo music at odds with its awkward, realistic and relatable lyrical content detailing matters such as the end of a relationship, high school crushes and coming of age.
The uptempo fun continues on one of the 2016’s best Pop releases ‘What’s It Gonna Be‘? the other collaboration with Kurstin which still sounds as fresh and uplifting as on its first listen. Whilst mention of it fitting perfectly on a John Hughes movie soundtrack is becoming something of a cliche, this is certainly the case.
Elsewhere, the album is given time to breathe on gentler tracks. The analogue synthesizer sound present on ‘Touch‘ still forms part of its appeal with its breathy vocals and simple chord transition whilst the moody ‘Make It Up‘ feels as though it belongs on a Cyndi Lauper album. Then there’s the shimmering, summery ‘2Shy‘ which remains one of Shura’s best tracks. The awkwardness and shyness of the track (“Maybe I’m just 2Shy to say it, we could be more than friends…”) is somehow perfectly captured in its fizzy production and sweet vocals.
The album’s best track, however, is the gorgeous synthpop ballad ‘Kidz ‘N’ Stuff‘ which is reminiscent of Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’s best work circa ‘Rhythm Nation’. ‘How can I not be everything you need?’ her syrupy, whispered vocals pine over twinkling synths, moody guitars and crashing percussion. It’s tender, it’s relatable and it’s a golden moment on the album which surprisingly escalates into an incredible, spine-tingling electro interlude into the Pop perfection of ‘Indecision‘.
The album employs the use of spaced-out-synths in other areas too. Eerie, psychedelic interludes, blanketed with audio clips lifted from private home movies [(I) and (II)] punctuate the album perfectly. Indeed, the album finishes in this manner on the gorgeous, de-tuned ‘311215‘. It’s an additional reminder of how personal the album is whilst also touching on one of its key themes – time.
Another of the album’s highlights is the new-wave influenced ‘What Happened To Us?’ which somehow straddles Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Gypsy‘ and Don Henley’s ‘Boys of Summer‘ simultaneously. It is perhaps the one song on the album which breaks from the programmed instrumentation and instead utilises a full band with wailing guitars, fierce percussion and a triumphant chorus. “I’m no child but I don’t feel grown up” Shura almost growls over its fierce instrumentation.
It’s an album unconfined by fillers or impersonal production by superstar producers where Shura herself is responsible for the album’s concept, creation and curation, often assisted by Athlete’s Joel Pott. Every track is killer and its production is tight yet captivating.
One of the the must-have albums of 2016.
Highlights: What’s It Gonna Be?, Touch, Kidz ‘N’ Stuff, Indecision, What Happened To Us?, 2Shy
‘Nothing’s Real’ is available now on Polydor Records.