Shura has established herself as one of the brightest, freshest voices in synth pop today.
Shura’s proper debut has been in the works since “Touch”–with its irresistible synth plucks and refreshingly direct lyrics about how a relationship can change without either party realizing why–became a hit in 2014. The two-and-a-half year wait for her first solo record, Nothing’s Real, would be a lot to overcome for most pop artists, but not for Shura, whose sound borrows as heavily from ’80s pop as Netflix’s “Stranger Things” does from the decade’s TV shows. Even her album cover is reminiscent of the iconic half-drawn/half-live action video for A-ha’s ‘80s classic “Take On Me.”
In the time since “Touch,” her style has clearly developed, growing richer and more expansive. Artists like Blood Orange and Carly Rae Jepsen have recently found success incorporating elements of the gooey, synth-centric sound that dominated music 30 years ago. But while Carly Rae uses it to craft neon-colored love songs like “Run Away With Me,” Shura approaches ‘80s pop with the mentality of an indie artist.
On Nothing’s Real, she uses the tools before her to tackle heartbreak, paranoia, and the general complexities of simply being a person today. The title track is an account of a panic and hospitalization that is punctuated by elegant strings and anxious synth chords. “I got nerves around my chest / Telling the time like I’ve got none left / One o’clock, two o’clock, three / How is it time runs away from me?,” Shura wonders on the second verse.
Slower, and sweeter, “What’s It Gonna Be” is no less impressive. It’s the rare song that is direct and honest about its emotions without being brash or confrontational. Chugging guitar chords give the track more of a pop rock sensibility; it sounds like something that could have been crafted by the Haim sisters, whose own music bears a distinct ‘80s sensibility, albeit one that is more Fleetwood Mac than Janet Jackson.
“Do I tell you I love you or not? / Cause I can’t really guess what you want / If you let me down, let me down slow,” she confesses.
“Kidz ‘N’ Stuff” is the logical follow-up to the question asked on “What’s It Gonna Be,” and sees Shura reflecting on the answer. It’s based on the abrupt ending of a real relationship she had, and manages to be both somber and resilient. “How can I not be everything that you need?” she wonders on the hook, and that line takes over the song during its outro.
Not only is “Kidz ‘N’ Stuff” one of the more resonant records on Nothing’s Real from an emotional standpoint, but it’s also a masterful bit of sequencing, as the track morphs into “Indecision,” another one of the album’s pristine pieces of power pop. The sequencing here is generally impressive, minimal shifts at the end of tracks like “Indecision” prepare the listener for what comes next, and while there isn’t a ton of instrumental variety that winds up giving the record a sense of consistency, not stagnation. Even though the album’s first half is stronger than its second (it features most of the singles) the production and sequencing compensates for that fact.
“What Happened to Us” and “Tongue Tied” are both mid-album highlights that keep the momentum going and highlight Shura’s talents not just as a vocalist but also a songwriter and producer. She’s a true triple threat and an artist highly assured in her unique sound.
The album’s final two tracks clock in at a combined 20 minutes and take on a decidedly different tone from the preceding 11. “White Light” and “The Space Tapes” are both sprawling, stream-of-consciousness sketches. The former, which has a Neon Indian-esque bounce, is more focused and in line with the rest of Nothing’s Real, whereas the latter is far more impressionistic.
There really aren’t any missteps on Nothing’s Real, the biggest disappointment is that there are only nine traditional tracks on the album with a pair of synth heavy ambient interludes. With her incandescent debut, Shura has established herself as one of the brightest, freshest voices in synth pop today, and even if we have to wait until 2018 to hear what comes next, all indications are that the wait will be worthwhile.