Shura’s ‘Nothing’s Real’: Album Review

Stephen Sears | July 8, 2016 8:30 am
When Shura sings “I’ve emotions of my own / A tidal wave of feelings to ride” on her debut album Nothing’s Real (out today, ),  she means it. She arrives, like so many young British artists before her, as a music fan who quietly started noodling around with sounds in her bedroom. But unlike most, the 24-year-old Londoner has created the synth-pop album of summer ’16.

In 2014, she hooked up with songwriter and producer Joel Pott to release the gossamer single, “Touch,” a blueprint for the work that followed. Combining lyrics that capsulize the confusion and frustration of youth and love  (“There’s a love between us, but something changed and I don’t know why”) with a chilled electronic production that never skimps — like so much indie-pop does — on melody.

Smooth, subtle moments form the flesh of Nothing’s Real, but the album is peppered with surprises. The title track is the most outright ’80s production, welding Gary Numan synths to a neurotic, paranoid lyric (“I’m a dead girl walking. I need medicine”). “Indecision” bears the hallmarks of a classic Madonna 45, from the low-end beat to the swirling bells — every pop album needs bells — and a nice bit of electric guitar slashing through it. She immediately shifts gears with the surging California dreampop of “What Happened To Us.” It’s a bit of Tango-era Fleetwood Mac, in part due to the very Stevie Nicks-ian chorus hook: “I’m no child, but I don’t feel grown up.”

A few weeks back, Idolator noted that the bass-heavy “Make It Up” “blurs the line between bedroom pouts and dance-floor catharsis.” Details elevate it, from the way Shura sharply observes the song’s protagonist as “one girl on the last train, small change in the universe” to the weary way she cries “ohh!” at 1:18.  Shura has spoken in interviews of playing specific moments of her favorite songs over and over; you can hear that attention to detail on Nothing’s Real.

It’s a testament to Shura’s musical identity that the two tracks she produced in Los Angeles with Greg Kurstin (think Adele‘s “Hello”) blend right into the music she created with Pott. “What’s It Gonna Be,” which begins with the crackle of vinyl grooves, is the album’s instantaneous earworm. Shura picks up where the recently-absent Robyn left off on a track that mixes romantic melancholy (“Don’t wanna give you up / Don’t wanna make it out like it’s no big deal”) with an arrangement that bounces and shines like a John Hughes movie theme. Kurstin’s production on this and the seductive “Tongue Tied” never overwhelm the artist — he simply brings out another side.

Shura closes the album with her masterwork: the monolithic, seven-plus minute version of “White Light.” Originally released in 2015, the song sprawls out and properly breathes. The early single edit doesn’t touch this mix. A shimmery breakdown at 4:40 leads into a New Order-esque guitar segment that lifts the album into the heavens as it becomes increasingly assertive.

Shura recently commented that she’d love to produce Madonna. Good idea. Let’s hope Nothing’s Real is the beginning of a long run for a talented new voice.


Stephen Sears

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