Having featured heavily on Hiatus’ 2013 album Parklands, synthpop aficionado Shura began to gain real traction in the music scene two years ago with the release of her single ‘Touch’, a slick ambient track mulling over a bittersweet awkwardness between ex-lovers. Many have likened her style to Madonna’s early work, and reflecting upon her debut album Nothing’s Real leaves it impossible not to notice the similarities between this record and recent offerings from Tegan and Sara. It’s an hour of effortless electropop, interspersed with audio clips from childhood home movies and languidly produced, laying the artist’s soul bare.
The title track is a buoyant, upbeat affair, with an infectiously catchy chorus – but this formulaically light-hearted song is in fact about the artist’s first panic attack. It does a fantastic job of thoughtfully pulling a conversation about mental health into the musical mainstream, especially when such a conversation can be intimidating to enter; it’s all too easy to slip up, become inadvertently preachy, and generally sour the mood. ‘Nothing’s Real’ simply presents the experience as is.
Mental health isn’t the only immensely personal topic delved upon in Nothing’s Real – Shura’s whispery vocals on ‘2Shy’ document being too nervous to confess one’s affections to a potential love interest, while ‘Kidz ‘N’ Stuff’ chronicles the shock of an unexpected breakup. The listening experience feels like a drunken conversation in the only quiet corner of a bar: you and Shura both aware that maybe a little too much has been shared, but with neither party particularly keen for things to come to an end.
It’s not just the personal touch that pulls the record together. It’s impressive on a purely musical level too, especially in a genre which can become repetitive and forgettable. She’s certainly not breaking any new ground here – it’s all a very familiar sound, and nearly every song on the album can be closely twinned to the works of another artist. ‘Indecision’ has a very Gwen Stefani-esque vibe, whilst ‘What Happened to Us?’ is almost reminiscent of Haim’s work – the layering of multiple vocal tracks almost making it sound as if there’s a triad of Shuras at work. But there’s a degree of respectability in taking synthpop, so often overproduced and tired, and keeping it fresh and exciting.
Despite the fact that seven of the thirteen songs have already been released in some form prior to Nothing’s Real, fans who’ve been closely following the trajectory of Shura’s career and have heard them all before would be hard pressed to fault this cocktail of tracks. It should be noted that maybe the placement of ‘White Light’ and ‘The Space Tapes’ could have been reversed, as the instrumentals at the end of ‘White Light’ would have served well to round things off more cleanly. That being said, ‘The Space Tapes’ is arguably the strongest and most experimental track on the album, heavy on vocal warping and sampling. It jangles and lurches its way through around three genres at once with barely a pause for breath, and it’s nice to have the very best saved for last.
Shura has released one of the most solid debut albums of the year so far in Nothing’s Real, achieving anticipated (but perhaps no less overwhelming) critical acclaim. So what’s next for alt-pop’s latest sweetheart? The answer to this question is clear from the repeated refrain of the album’s closing track – kill them all, of course.By Chloe Kent