Author: Briana Ellison
On Friday July 8, 2016, English singer-songwriter Shura released her highly anticipated debut album “Nothing’s Real.” The album is the follow-up to the artist’s 2015 “White Light – EP.” “Nothing’s Real” boasts 13 songs, three of which are tracks from “White Light.”
The album opens with the short “(i)” which features a creaking breeze overlaid with a vinyl pops. The song moves into featuring indecipherable noises and words from a young child, backed by what sounds like announcements from a war torn state, or a circus ringleader. “(i) is short, sweet and slightly eerie.
The next song is lead single “Nothing’s Real,” a track that sounds straight out of the ’80s pop scene with a simple drumbeat and laserbeam tones. Though the beat itself is quite upbeat, the lyrics are slightly darker, as Shura describes finding herself in an unprecedented situation. Her voice is beautifully laidback and dreamy, a husky soprano. “Nothing’s Real” is a carefree song, lending some reality to its title as Shura lyrically stutter-steps through various unwarranted situations. The song is a lighthearted dig at contradiction, with Shura and an unidentified “they” arguing over her physical and mental state.
The third song is “What’s It Gonna Be?,” which opens with vinyl pops and a fast-paced clapping base beat that has a child-like air. Shura’s vocals in this song are slightly faster, though with the same dreamy air that she’s perfected. The song is a sunny ode to loneliness and possessiveness, with Shura describing wanting someone who’s unattainable – due to them being physically far away and possibly with someone else. “What’s It Gonna Be?” is not only relatable but perfectly melds aspects of ’80s and modern electro-pop elements.
Next up is the single “Touch,” beginning with muffled speaking, a funky bass beat, slow clapping and a repetitive synth ditty. “Touch” is slow-paced and apprehensive, a song lyrically directed at someone from Shura’s past whom she wants to reconnect with. The song is an emotionally raw look at one’s internal struggle between logic and delusion: Logically, Shura knows she’s “out of my mind” for wanting to reconnect with this person, yet there’s still a part of her (the delusion) that wants to. “Touch” is also a look at the human psyche, and how our emotions and environment can often overrule our reason.
Following is the dark, reminiscent tune “Kidz ‘N’ Stuff.” An electro-ballad that features a starry synth-beat and a jazzy guitar, “Kidz ‘N’ Stuff” delves into the bleak and painful emotions one experiences as they process their decisions and actions after a break up. The song is tender, accusatory and just plain sad, with Shura wondering “how could I not be everything that you need?” Sonically, the song takes a turn as it nears the end, with Shura’s repetitive vocals of “how could I not be” fading out to be replaced by a more upbeat synth beat as the song transfers seamlessly into “Indecision.”
“Indecision,” the second part to “Kidz ‘N’ Stuff,” is the first of the tracks that was also featured on Shura’s “White Light – EP.” “Indecision” is decidedly more upbeat, with a disco beat and Shura’s lyrics returning in a more scathing manner. Lyrically, Shura moves from contemplating her own role in a relationship’s breakdown to unabashedly questioning her partner’s part. Shura also doesn’t shy away from detailing her remaining attachment to her partner, even through all of the incidents their relationship’s gone through. In another brilliant peek into the chaos of human emotions, “Indecision” expertly shows how anger and loyalty can coexist (albeit unhealthy) in a relationship.
The seventh song is “What Happened To Us?” This song completes the album’s slight transition from darker songs to ones that are more upbeat, as this song opens with a rock-influenced guitar that bounces below a surfer-esque electro beat. Lyrically, however, the song expands on the established theme of a broken down relationship. The difference is that “What Happened to Us?” manifests a physical, emotional and mental divide between Shura and her partner that the listener can clearly visualize as the divide between immaturity and maturity.
The second half of “Nothing’s Real” opens with the especially short “(ii).” Only 46 seconds long, “(ii)” isn’t a song so much as a tape recording of what I believe to be Shura at a younger age talking with her father. The parallels between the young, innocent Shura and her older love-embattled counterpart are striking. “(ii)” is a lovely divider of the album, as the conversation it contains flows well with the theme of the first seven songs, while giving you a calming sense of hope and something new to come on the last five.
Following “(ii)” is “Tongue Tied,” a beachy track that features a more optimistic Shura. Though she’s still chasing her unnamed significant other, she seems complacent and happy in doing so. This Shura is evolved, having moved on from her spurned advances in the first half of “Nothing’s Real,” the object of her affection is more obtainable. With more confident lyrics to backup the comfortable guitar-synth beat in the background, “Tongue Tied” is a nod to gradual maturation and growth.
Next up is “Make It Up,” a keyboard and guitar driven track that’s significantly slower than its predecessor. This song details the evolution and growth Shura experienced, first seen on “Tongue Tied.” “Make It Up” is Shura’s acknowledgement of the irrational decisions one makes when completely invested in a relationship, with the unashamed songwriting she’s showcased on this entire album.
Song number 11 is “2Shy,” the second track snagged from the “White Light – EP.” “2Shy” features purely ’80s composition, with music that showcases the best of smooth jazz and electro from that era. To match the song’s title, Shura’s voice and lyrics are quiet and timid. Detailing an unrequited and unspoken love, “2Shy” is meek but powerful, an anthem for those with personal obstacles obstructing their happiness. Yet, at the same time, Shura is hopeful, her voice having an air of optimism, as though she knows eventually she’ll overcome this shyness and reach a state of contentment.
The penultimate is the massive “White Light,” the last track that also made an appearance on the EP of the same name. However, on the EP, “White Light” is a mere four minutes long; on “Nothing’s Real” the track spans almost 11. The song begins with the same breeze that punctuated “(i),” accompanied by noises that sound like the lonely creaks of a playground left to rot. As the song reaches the first minute mark, it transforms itself with a clapping-synth beat and soft emergency vehicle sirens. Shura’s voice enters with tentative strength, as she sings about confidence and embracing one’s identity – a message aimed at her audience as much as it is sung about a partner. Halfway through the song the vocals fade out, leaving only a space-esque wandering guitar riff. The song soon evolves again, with a second joining in on a rock-infused chord accompanied by some cowbell and a slithering synth beat, which all too quickly fades to complete silence. After a minute of silence, the song is inflected with more (what I assume to be) home tapes, this one featuring Shura’s mother, before Shura begins singing in a light, contemplative voice as the tapes continue.
The album ends with “The Space Tapes,” another long track spanning almost 10 minutes. The song opens with a short conversation spoken by two people with especially deep voices. It’s soon interrupted by a percussion arrangement and a repetitive yet unintelligible word grabbed from another home video. The lyrics pull some lines from “Make It Up,” but with a different arrangement and an echo on Shura’s voice. With a line repeated by one of the opening deep voices, this first portion of the song fades out, replaced by a synth beat that appropriately sounds like it would fit with a satellite traveling through space. The sound becomes slightly yet gorgeously warped as it plays over a child’s ramblings and some vocals by Shura. This portion fades to what sounds like waves crashing on a beach, with a timid guitar chord repeated as the waves fade out. Shura layers her voice with the deeper of the two opening voices as a drumbeat fades in, accompanied by a funk-influenced bass and synth chords. This is how the song ends, with a wandering and space-like beat.
Overall, I give “Nothing’s Real” a 9/10. The entire album is beautifully composed, and the three takes from Shura’s preceding EP work wonderfully here. Her overall message, one that explores human growth as well as human emotion is powerful and genius. I only wish “White Light” wasn’t as long as it was, because it feels unnecessary. Otherwise, the entire album is bizarrely comforting – bizarre only because you don’t realize until after you’ve finished listening that the album felt like a safe haven, due to its honest and relatable nature.
SONGS TO LISTEN TO: What’s It Gonna Be?, Touch, What Happened To Us?, Make It Up, The Space Tapes