It’s been two years since the release of Shura‘s debut single Touch. It wasn’t the sort of loud arrival that hype-conjuring artists make but it tapped away at people’s heartstrings thanks to its gentle vocals and starkly honest lyrics. At the time we barely knew anything about Shura other than that she was a Brit picking up Soundcloud spins at a rapid rate but over the past two years, she’s sporadically dropped singles each time adding another dimension to the Shura sounds – funk, disco and more recently pop. The title track and the entrance into Shura’s debut album Nothing’s Real shows that while she’s maintained that same immediate charm, there’s a newfound confidence on her debut album that’s allowed her to make one of the pop records of the year.
Nothing’s Real is an ’80s leaning-pop song taking cues from Madonna’s early songbook with bubbling beats and airy vocals. Its chorus drips with disco-spirit as strings fall around her light but beautifully textured voice. Seven of the 13 songs on this record had been released before the entire effort dropped but if you think you knew exactly what to expect off it, Nothing’s Real will set you on a different path as yet another addition to her impressive repertoire.
While each song on the record stands on its own, the record is beautifully tied together by soundbites from Shura’s childhood and that motif is only furthered by the fact that the sonic direction of the album feels like an amalgamation of her record collection growing up. Indecision nods to the R&B/dance sound that peaked in the ’90s, White Light goes further back to ’70s disco nicked from her parent’s collection and Kidz N Stuff is straight out of an ’80s romance film. Despite all these different reference points, the record flows effortlessly with no sonic change ever sounding jarring. In fact, she mixes the two biggest juxtapositions on the record, Kidz N Stuff and Indecision, with such finite finesse that it may be the standing ovation moment of the record.
Lyrically, the album centres around Shura’s pursuit for love. On the gloriously euphoric What’s It Gonna Be? she’s asking someone to take the next step while on 2Shy she admits she’s too shy to take anything to the next step. Much like her melodies, none of her lyrics are convoluted. Everything is delivered with a poignant simplicity and that results in universal sentiments like, “We could be more than friends but maybe I’m just too shy”. It’s one of those albums you can listen through once and already feel as if you’re passing screwed up notes back and forth with Shura in class. She’s got a familiar warmth to her and maybe that’s because her honesty is so straight-up and genuine.
So many artists who build hype off their first release falter once they reach their debut album because they’re pressured to make that big single which often sounds in-genuine. It takes an artist who is self-assured in their own sonic vision to avoid that misstep. Two years ago HAIM managed to retain their original charm while delivering airwave-charming singles on their debut album Days Are Gone and Shura’s done much the same. What’s It Gonna Be? may just be the pop song of the year with its danceable, pounding drum beat, euphoric chorus and open-diary lyrics. On paper, it’s a million miles away from the candle-lit intimacy of Touch and yet the latter sits one track after it on the album complimenting it perfectly.
Funnily enough, Nothing’s Real is so successful because everything’s real. Nothing’s forced, overthought or sugar-coated. It’s difficult to imagine what more you could ask for from a debut record. She’s expanded on her early sound without abandoning it and effortlessly explored light and shade without detouring far from her comfort zone. Without having ever met Shura, this album makes you feel otherwise. To critique its lyrics or sonic direction would almost be like critiquing Shura’s own personality. And luckily there’s barely a flaw to be seen on Nothing’s Real.
She’s not breaking new ground here but there’s a skill in making comfortable music exciting and that’s exactly what this is – familiar without being safe.