Shura fiddles with religious symbols and themes as a means of expression and humor, which ironically leads her down a path of spirituality all her own.
Pete Hautman’s YA novel, Godless, follows a 16-year-old atheist who takes faith into his own hands by starting his own religion, centered on water as an all-powerful deity. Modeled after the Catholicism it rebels against, “Chutengodianism” utilizes and playfully mocks aspects like the sacraments and Commandments. Started as a troll, it eventually grows larger and more impactful than the protagonist intended it to, for him included.
Another atheist “fascinated by religion,” Shura also toys with spirituality by adapting pieces of it to her art. On the follow-up album, forevher, the sardonic sensibilities of Nothing’s Real remain, but they’re overpowered by Shura’s optimism, which finds its strength in her cheeky takes on religion, mortality and love. Like Godless, she fiddles with religious symbols and themes as a means of expression and humor, which ironically leads her down a path of spirituality all her own.
While longtime producer Joel Pott’s production is more instrumental than electronic this time around, Shura still coats her voice with a metallic sheen, the intro “that’s me, just a sweet melody” the major exception to the rule. Backed by piano and funky percussion, she saunters into “side effects” with a voice pinched together with autotune. The track signifies the shift from Nothing’s Real to forevher, where Shura sounds much more at ease; it also possibly hints at Shura’s break from Polydor to Secretly Canadian. The relief with which she sings, “I got out/ I got free” reveals the weight of a relationship finally lifted off. Even the line, “Done with music, babe,” though a reference to a MUNA show, suggests a freedom from the pressures of her debut. Free of inhibitions, Shura may now explore the topics and feelings with which she’s been fascinated and/or dogged.
Lead single “BKLYNLDN” begins with a proposition: “I could pretend I’m Jesus,” a plan rendered moot by verse two: “Don’t have to pretend I need you.” Why pursue the theoretical when the tangible is there for the taking? Instead of submitting to dated beliefs, Shura creates her own, one where followers worship bodily pleasures and comfort on “religion (u can lay your hands on me).” The results range from cheeky rhetoricals “Does anyone think a virgin had a baby?” to hopefully-ever-after ballads (“tommy”), where spirituality seems to take a greater hold than anticipated.
Telling the story of a 90-year-old widower and his wife’s heavenly perspective, “tommy” features Shura’s synthetic singing atop sweeping pianos and strings. The contrast between the two parallels the contrast between young and old attitudes towards belief, Shura the New Age take while the instruments provide the foundation from which it sprung. For a nonbeliever, she extraordinarily conveys the sorrows and hopes that come with belief: “I know that you’re . . . dining with someone new,” may not be sung by a believer, but it resonates with the conviction of one.
As it progresses, forevher only further showcases Shura’s growth from her uncertain beginnings and her transition towards sparser, more traditional instrumentation. “princess leia,” a tale of sharing a plane with a deceased soldier, is morbid in subject matter yet pleasant in tone, the light guitar riffs eventually giving way to a chorus of horns. A line that reads, “Maybe I died when Carrie Fisher died” is neither entirely morbid nor comical, and would sit perfectly as a caption to memes like this. The seriousness comes afterward, on “flyin’,” where stomping percussion mimics one’s march towards the inevitable: death. Even still, Shura seems to accept the idea of death, along with surrendering to ambiguity (“control”) and the overwhelming idea of life everlasting (“forever”).
It’s this security in the undefined which carries forevher to victory on “skyline, be mine,” where vocals grow so warped they suggest the start of something uncharted and exciting, like a new relationship. Where Shura used to overthink her emotions, she now sinks into them and finds they’re much comfortable that way. In the end, it helps her find something to believe in, her girlfriend, whose love allows Shura to be at ease. Sometimes, relinquishing control provides more peace of mind than having it. “I am nothing/ But I believe in your body underneath” is a religion she comes to naturally, and she sounds all the better for it.