Release Date: Jul 8, 2016
Record label: Interscope
“I’m pretty much the queen of awkward,” Aleksandra Denton told Hunger, at the moment her self-produced single Touch struck viral gold. She went on to be longlisted for the BBC’s Sound of 2015, and has released a steady stream of singles since rather than rushing to record an album, playing the online hype machine by creating the single-serving www.hasshurafinishedheralbumyet.com. Two years on, it’s a yes, and, while there are certainly hints of an awkward, vulnerable voice, Shura has every reason to be brimming with confidence.
The long-anticipated debut album of English singer Shura, who has been steadily releasing songs since “Touch” in 2014, reveals an artist already surprisingly confident and mature in her own style. Over the past two years, more songs on the album have been released as singles than not, and justifiably so as Nothing’s Real is packed with solid, infectious, deeply catchy pop songs, most all of which can stand alone just as easily as they can run with the pack. While it has become fashionable since the dawn of the digital era in particular to decry a singles-oriented approach to popular music, Shura’s debut offering proves that when every song is a potential single, the shortcomings of this approach may be largely circumvented.
When Shura released her breakthrough track "Touch" in 2014, fans of her gauzy update of '80s pop and R&B immediately wanted more. Though 2015's White Light EP offered some tantalizing new songs, Shura kept listeners waiting another year for her first full-length. Fortunately, the results were worth it: Nothing's Real boasts richer songwriting and wider-ranging sounds than might have been expected.
Lo-fi pop star Shura’s early singles – the somnolent longing of Touch, the drip-feed 2Shy – suggested she’d found her calling in tactile, slow-burn growers. Debut album Nothing’s Real, however, fleshes out those songs with bold nods to disco (the excellent What’s It Gonna Be?), 80s rom-com soundtrack indie (What Happened to Us?) and, on White Light, psychedelic noodling. Throughout there’s real emotional weight to the lyrics, the fizzing title track detailing a panic attack that landed her in hospital, while Indecision and Kidz?‘n’?Stuff pinpoint the awkwardness of relationships in expert detail.
It’s often said Manchester’s Shura –AKA Alexandra Lilah Denton – draws from the synthetic groove of Madonna’s early years; but two years and 26m YouTube views after her effortlessly enveloping single Touch was released, her sound now seems to belongs to a less distant era: stripping drivetime pop of its pomp, adding subtlety and shyness in its place; the production languid, its ambience a pastel shade of plaintive – Nothing’s Real is pure blog-pop, of the sort that preceded chillwave and has since nearly faded out. Over samples of childhood home movies, she sings as if under the sheets and unloading a lifetime of intimacies on a new lover. The title track, for example, is about her first panic attack, while 2Shy grapples with introversion in the face of romance.
Plain-talking and 80s nodding from start to finish, Shura’s long-awaited debut ‘Nothing’s Real’ chucks liberal amounts of heartbreak and anxiety into the melting pot, making punchy soup with the brain-being-fried-to-mush feeling of falling crazily in love. Doing away with any hint of floweriness lyrically, it’s a record that puts the focus on crisp, glitzy songwriting instead. Though Shura’s not quite got the vocal aerobic strut of most of her heroes – she’s more of a unembellished, relatable vocal than a Whitney Houston-type – her debut record smudges together a super-smoothie, tinged with hints of early Madonna, Janet Jackson, Cheryl Lynn and Donna Summer.
If proof is needed of the buzz surrounding London singer/songwriter Shura, the latest face to emerge from the post CHVRCHES synth-gen, then no look further than www.hasshurafinishedheralbumyet.com: the self-explanatory website built to put the kibosh on any lines of trite journalistic questioning. At best, such a move could be read as effacing, tongue-in-cheek hubris; at worst a canny marketing ploy by the beaks upstairs. Thankfully, Nothing’s Real, the finished product in question, is imbued with the type of honesty that lends credence to the former.
Like Courtney Barnett’s “Avant Gardener,” the title track of Shura’s debut album steals a second of control during a seizure. Barnett laid out her value system in the middle of an anaphylactic shock when she remarked of a paramedic, “She thinks I'm clever because I play guitar/I think she’s clever because she stops people dying. ” In “Nothing’s Real,” doctors tell Shura that her panic attack has no medical basis, and hook her up to an ECG to prove it.
Most artists’ origin stories follow a relatively easy-to-trace narrative arc, or at least one is easy to overlay on their story in hindsight. In the case of Bon Iver, it was escaping personal turmoil to record amid the solitude of rural Wisconsin. Jenny Lewis, meanwhile, left behind the child actor life to try her hand at rock stardom. These stories matter, and they echo through albums and entire careers.
Alexandra Lilah Denton's brand of bedroom pop came seemingly fully formed on her startlingly magnificent 2014 debut single as Shura, "Touch. " A demure yet straightforward track, it captured listeners' attention with a sticky-sweet melody and the repetition of a painfully honest refrain: "There's a love between us still but something's changed and I don't know why. "On the UK-based artist's debut LP, Nothing's Real, Denton's faithful to the sound of her already-released songs, coating lyrics confronting crushes and insecurities in glossy synthesizers.
The debut album from twenty-five-year-old British alt-pop diarist Shura is a tangle of glam and glum. Born in the Nineties and in love with the bubble beats and synth clouds of the Eighties, she builds her music as a glossy shell around detailed dissections of missed connections. "What's It Gonna Be?" throbs with something close to joy but imagines a love hundreds of miles away letting her down; "2Shy" is a lonely walk home sucking on an unlit cigarette, obsessing about unspoken desire; "Indecision" nods to Madonna's "Borderline" and confesses an attachment that lingers past its sell-by date.
Ever since Shura introduced herself with the majestic “Touch” there’s been an insatiable clamour for her album, which seemed to amuse and bemuse her. As well as teasing #hasshurafinishedheralbumyet? on Twitter she created a website devoted to the subject. Nothing’s Real is finally here, and it’s an incredible collection of songs that are in love with perfect pop Perfect pop has been a holy grail in music since the 80s.
Modern Synthpop has seen the genre become an expansion of its predecessors, mixing Chicago House into its background, with more of a pop sensibility at its core. Mainstream releases have seen successes from the likes of Banks, Jungle, Blood Orange and most recently, French pop star Christine and the Queens. And it's in this resurgence that the genre has become something almost entirely different; songs with their roots firmly in the past, but with a tumblr-esque aesthetic that is undeniably modern.
A month ago, Alexandra Denton released one of the most memorable music videos of 2016 for her Class A earworm ‘What’s It Gonna Be?’ The unabashedly cheesy clip is a crush story inspired by films like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and in it she and her twin brother Nick fall for each other’s heartthrobs. These four minutes encapsulate all of Shura’s best qualities – humour, an unassailable passion for all things retro, and an approach to youth and love that’s both heady and steady. ‘What’s It Gonna Be?’ makes the capriciousness of young love sound thrilling, whereas its neighbouring track ‘Touch’ is a gem of a torch song that bears the pained voice of experience.
The young English singer Shura is fluent in the sound of mid-to-late 1980s dance-pop and freestyle: really, almost born to it. This is the area of early Madonna and Janet Jackson, Debbie Gibson and Debbie Deb, and it comes out fully embodied and elegantly modernized on “Nothing’s Real,” her first album. In musical terms — because so much of this album’s meaning and information comes directly through its music — Shura’s ’80s fixation means that you hear her vocal phrasing in a confiding, syncopated staccato; heavy accents on the two and four beats; handclap sounds from a Roland TR-808 drum machine; synthesizer bass lines and clean guitar notes meted out in steady percolation, as another function of rhythm.
The end of a relationship can seem ho-hum to outside observers, especially if it involves that too-clichéd-even-for-pop line "It's not you, it's me. " That's where a pop lyricist comes in and somehow conveys the apocalyptic nihilism such a kiss-off can inspire: "I'll never find someone like you. " English pop singer Shura (the stage name of Aleksandra Denton) tackles the subject of breaking up by elevating the unsexy reasons a relationship might fade out (insecurity, inexperience, self-consciousness, denial, lack of communication, anxiety, the other person doesn't want kids) into sleek synth-pop that acknowledges "It might've been me.