Monday, July 11, 2016

Nothing's Real | Shura

Lengthy wait times for debut albums have become the new norm, often delayed by an extended play to test the waters before an artist plunges head-first into the industry or by an artist's overly fastidious hand as she curates her single shot at an introduction to the world. Just ask English singer-songwriter-producer (the total package) Shura. In anticipation of her full-length debut, fans entertained themselves for two years with activities such as launching and asking why her magnum opus, a minimal piece of gold titled "Touch," wasn't available on iTunes. They were primitive days, weren't they? Times have certainly changed since the birth of Nothing's Real, an hour's worth of '80s-soaked low-fi synthpop, just last week.

Okay, so as previously argued, the illusions to '80s influences in modern day synthpop are becoming so prevalent that '80s synthpop and '10s synthpop are nearly sonically synonymous. But whereas queen of pop Carly Rae Jepsen delivered teen-pop tracks covered in a pristine gloss with E•MO•TION, Shura takes a stab at porous, gritty, spacey synthpop that leans more towards the Jacksons (Michael and Janet, that is) and early Madonna – an approach future tourmates Tegan and Sara employed on their latest effort in a lesser capacity. There's a certain authenticity in Shura's commitments to achieve this perfectly imperfect product: fuzzy layers of white noise, heavy reverberation, vocal filters, and succinct 808 hits make for an album that channels a decade with unbelievable execution for an maestro who didn't even live through it.

Needless to say, rarely do '80s influences tickle me with a nostalgic feeling anymore – that is, until this album came around. After all, the title track positions itself at the crossroads of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," the Ghostbusters main theme, and the heart of disco – that's a bold assertion that demands bold results, which the song delivers with ease. It's a surprising turn of events, considering livelier bits weren't predicted to be in her wheelhouse after she had delivered a track as dreamy as "Touch" and an extended play filled with syncopated dance beats in the past few years – and while she still finds comfort in midtempo burners ("Tongue Tied," "Make It Up"), tracks like "Nothing's Real" and her most animated release to date, the Greg Kurstin-cosigned "What's It Gonna Be?," sure prove her unexpected versatility here.

But this album's influences aren't its only assets: its most unformulated moments blast it to another level. Two listed interludes and another hidden one at the end of the 11-minute cut of "White Light" add a touch of personality that can't be found in your typical pop album. (The banter from a home video in the second interlude – "What's your brother's name?" "Nicholas." "Do you love him?" "Not very much." – is undeniably adorable, by the way.) Also a gutsy move, the album's finale is an experimental bit that sprawls on for ten minutes. Fittingly titled "The Space Tapes," it slowly brings the set to its end on its most ambient, long-winded note with, well, spacey vibes – it's something that hasn't been attempted with notable success on a pop album since Lights closed out 2011's Siberia with nine minutes of diminishing synthesizer runs.

There are a lot of brilliantly ballsy moments here for an artist just regaining traction after a few years removed from her breakthrough hit – moments that really make this album more than your typical synthpop album. The space age meandering, the refusal to abandon a midtempo pace for a more marketable livelihood, the overt sincerity and pensive nature... essentially, Nothing's Real is Shura's very personal time capsule, crafted with care and filled with memories, home video tapes, and a heap of pop records that predate her by ten years, and we listeners have been invited only to marvel as it's cracked open.

Nothing's Real is out now under Interscope Records.

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