ALBUM REVIEW: Tirzah, Colourgrade
Since her debut in 2018, Tirzah has been an artist who is deeply intimate and honest. Contrary to how immediately catchy a track like “Holding On” is, it sticks out like a sore thumb in the midst of all the confessional and slow alt-R&B that makes up a bulk of that record. A track like “Affection” is a much more accurate picture of her style and the way in which she expresses herself, through hypnotic repetition. “Yeah you know we couldn’t make this thing right/Yeah you know/Yeah you know we couldn’t make this thing right” she solemnly sings on “Affection” over and over again until the track fades. Her music wasn’t so much about solid and defined concepts of love than it was about trying to capture the uncertainties. For example: What happens when two people love each other but one of them is not really trying as hard as they could? Tirzah understands that romance and heartbreak exists in a gray area, where “closure” is just a trap door that leads to more confusion and hard feelings.
While the instrumentals and lyrical content gets a lot more abstract on her sophomore record Colourgrade, there is a noticeable shift in her priorities. More specifically, Tirzah is a mother of two now. While she once spent her days and nights wondering how to make it work with her lover, her devotion is now to her children. As a result, the confusion and loose ends apply to trying to unravel that mystery. On the trunk-knocking but heartfelt “Recipe”, she expresses her attempts to guide her children towards success “I can't teach you/I can guide you to/Or at least try to”. She understands that just as she is a singular artist, her child is a work of art that will go on it’s own path eventually. She gives them the “recipe” to navigate the world, rather than packaging up the metaphorical “food” and handing it to them easily each time. Elsewhere, like on “Sleeping”, she is describing the simple yet meaningful experiences that surround motherhood, like watching her child sleep. “I don’t, I don’t, I don’t/Want to go” she sings, almost like a pretty lullaby, “And I hold you, and I hold you tight”. While some touring musicians would be perfectly content with putting their children under the care of a babysitter and continuing life, Tirzah correctly understands that they are an extension of her. By staying with them and writing this music, she is furthering the honesty and intimacy she built her career on in the first place.
In that sense, this record reminds me of Fiona Apple’s Fetch The Bolt Cutters or even Clairo’s Sling, homespun and simple records that incorporate that theme into the actual sound. Rather than have even a hint of club melody (“Holding On”; “Basic Need”) in the music, Tirzah is content to allow her producer Mica Levi (aka Micachu) craft a sound palette that radiates DIY energy and familial closeness. The result mostly pays off, with tracks like “Colourgrade” and “Hips” sounding deeply futuristic, but still somehow down to Earth and human. As on the Clairo record, there are certain tracks that lie too low and nearly lull me to sleep, namely “Beating” and “Crepuscular Rays”, the longest track here. This track sounds like a guitar being tuned over a weirdly manipulated vocal melody, a really odd break from a record that is already very slow and patient. While I’m critiquing, I feel as if Tirzah doesn’t really go too crazy vocally either, remaining in the same tone and zone that she was in with Devotion. The simplistic nature of the sound is both a major bonus and a shot in the foot in that regard, paradoxically making the songs stand out while continuing to hold them back from being fully transcendent.
Colourgrade is definitely informed by childbirth and rearing, but some of the romantic themes of Devotion definitely come back, making for some of my favorite tracks. “Tectonic” is really stark with its underlying synths that remind me of Levi’s Under The Skin score quite a bit, backed by these Casio drums and bassy digital flute sounds. The lyrics describe a kiss, a closeness, a connection that feels beyond comprehension, “instinct takes place” she continues to repeat. It’s all very sexy and describes that feeling of a great makeout with someone you are committed to, “You know I'm yours and you're mine/As soon as you meet my face”. “Sink In” also addresses that loss of control in Tirzah, a person who seems very secure of herself and what she is doing at all times. Over a looping ‘80s slow-dance instrumental, she describes learning to trust again, and giving up control, sinking into the love she feels with this other person. Far away are those toss-up feelings from “Holding On”, she is committed to this bond with all her being. Lyrically, I feel as if “Hive Mind'' uses the repetition of words in the most interesting way, describing the joining of ideas that come with commitment. As she says a line, her frequent collaborator Coby Sey repeats them right back. “Sing different tunes...sing different tunes…” feels almost ironic. I feel like it accurately describes the domesticated reality of parenting. Two people with distinct single lives come together and so do their personalities, speech and social lives.
While I feel that this record’s repetition and simplicity in all facets is a double-edged sword, I think the good definitely outweighs the bad. This record is full of contradictions in that way, it is simultaneously abstract and strange as it is relatable and catchy. Tirzah comes through with the rare sophomore record that is superior to the debut, holding nothing back and putting it all out there for her audience to understand. With Mica Levi continuing to be the glue, this is one of the more sonically engaging R&B (if you can even call it that) albums this year.