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Tirzah: Devotion

Tirzah: Devotion

This somber, suave music takes the sounds of experimental hip-hop and R&B and turns them into an ode to and remedy for personal strife.

Tirzah: Devotion

3.25 / 5

I’ll make you fine/ Again.” Atop arpeggiating piano lines and delicate sub-bass, these are the words that open London-based artist Tirzah’s debut album. It’s a promise that doesn’t feel overly ambitious. Instead of aiming to spark reactions on either emotional extreme, Tirzah simply wants to breed contentment. For the most part, Devotion delivers on this claim. The somber, suave music takes the sounds of experimental hip-hop and R&B and turns them into an ode to and remedy for personal strife.

Much of the music on Devotion is built off of loops, but each one delivers a unique strangeness. It’s as if Tirzah and her producers—among them Kwes and Mica Levi—chose the least intuitive fragment to isolate and repeat and went about composing a whole song around it. “Do You Know” rides along a steadily clicking percussion line and a hypnotic vocal sample, but the two elements feel out-of-sync with each other. The rhythmic emphasis continually shifts, and only when Tirzah’s vocal melody enters does the music convene into a pattern. Even then, the frequent glitches and jolts keep the music from ever becoming fully sanguine, matching the relationship turmoil detailed in the lyrics.

The minimal, subtle nature of the production style allows even the smallest gestures to speak volumes. There’s a moment towards the end of “Holding On” where the track’s main synthesizer melody suddenly expands into vibrant harmonies. Even though the increased depth is fleeting, it takes the track’s playful mood and adds a layer of reverence that carries through to the end. Most of Devotion expertly rides this line between passion and carelessness, with Tirzah’s often lazy, slurred delivery pinned against near sacred-sounding music for a product that treats the narrative of personal drama as something special.

This merger finds its apex in the haunting ballad “Affection.” The piano line that guides the track denies any simple rhythmic structure, as it stutters on what should be the downbeat. The restart waits just long enough to assure disorientation, and Tirzah’s vocals further confound any quick understanding. She manages to both sit in the pocket of each beat while seemingly disregarding the unorthodox music behind her. “You know you’re gonna make this thing right,” she mumbles in a casual swing as the track fades out. Both in the music and the lyrics here, there’s a plea to escape the disarray around her as well as a patient acceptance of the current circumstances.

Devotion falters in its grander construction. Even though the 11 tracks run less than 40 minutes, the somber mood can wear quickly. Further, not every track is a definite keeper. The five-song run from “Fine Again” to “Affection” that opens the album is pure gold, and each of these compositions feel like they’ve been cut short to fit the neat three-to-four minute standard of the album. Conversely, cuts like “Basic Need” and “Say When” barely hold interest for their runtime and could’ve been left off to give more space for the stronger ideas to stretch, mutate and see their potential through.

The somewhat lackluster music that closes out the album is saved by Tirzah’s lyrics, which carry Devotion’s narrative to a satisfying conclusion. After all the back-and-forth declarations of feelings, the will-they-or-won’t-they stories of relationships, Tirzah finds an endpoint. Even if the finale is just more confusion, it still feels significant. On “Say When,” she sings “It’s not about who’s right or who’s wrong/ It’s not about trying to be clever.” After pushing a lover away (“Do You Know”), drawing them back in (“Gladly”) and admitting her own faults (“Guilty”), it all comes together in a moment of clarity. These minute disagreements and differences will eventually fade, leaving only resolution and a content calm.

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