At its surface, Tirzah describes Devotion as a collection of “straight-up love songs.” With that in mind, the depth of even one listen through begs for dissection of modern love’s complexity— how strange and cracked it is.
To fully, unconditionally give oneself to another is an act of selflessness and strength. It takes courage and time, which are surprisingly difficult to come by. Fidelity is an easy guise for the modern individual, many of which are too weak to commit to, let alone pretend to. Even the healthiest relationships fall prone to strife— silent mornings, half-finished coffee, an unmade bed. At its worse, the consuming feeling of emptiness is disorienting, a sensory deprivation chamber in the stomach’s pit. Words stutter if they can even escape.
South London songwriter/producer Tirzah finds catharsis in spilling bottled thoughts and romantic insecurities on her debut record Devotion. An outstanding effort of minimalist-pop, Tirzah creates intense headspaces with collages of hypnotic melodies and amorphous loops. Channeling maslowian themes of basic needs and vulnerabilities, Tirzah’s lyrics are rightfully blunt and conversational. Every young adult male could benefit from listening to them. Hushed and heady, Devotion is a stunning testament to the complexity of its very namesake.
Tirzah Mastin blipped into the underground radar with her industrial grime-club EP I’m Not Dancing in 2013, produced by longtime friend and collaborator Mica Levi (aka Micachu). Early tracks like “Slow Jam” and “Make It Up” carry a dark aura that are best danced to in private. For years, the duo has simultaneously expanded and refined their purview of soundscape construction. Tirzah and Mica have since taken a side step from inducing motion to manipulate stillness, where space is created as much as it is destroyed.
At its surface, Tirzah describes Devotion as a collection of “straight-up love songs.” With that in mind, the depth of even one listen through begs for dissection of modern love’s complexity — how strange and cracked it is. Zoomed in, each gap is filled with scraps and pearls from Levi’s sonic junkyard, coated with Tirzah’s highly capable, ghostly croon. On album opener “Fine Again,” listeners are carefully awoken by Tirzah’s gliding voice buried under warm sheets of subdued organ and lullaby-like synth twinkles. Tracks like “Do You Know” and “Basic Need” are founded on Tirzah’s own vocal samples, glitchy and skittering, proving she doesn’t need to sample anyone but herself. On “Guilty,” she even uses auto-tune, allowing her to ask, “What are you gonna do about it?” void of tone or giving a fuck.
On Devotion’s crushing centerpiece, “Affection,” absolute stillness is warped by a single piano chord, sparse and potent. Like a consistent drip from a leaking faucet, this serves as the piece’s pulse. Haunting voices and whispers bounce around the pan, evoking Frank Ocean’s Endless stunner, “Alabama.” As if comforting a child, Tirzah provides stern demands with a deliberate temperance to the partner of subject: “When you know you gotta make this thing right, don’t be scared.” With Mastin’s recent step into maternity, perhaps these similar obligations of domesticity coincide; with careful wording, you don’t want to hurt a loved one even after they’ve hurt you.
Some mornings, conflict is fleeting. Others, you eat hopelessness for breakfast. Then there are those days when there’s nothing more blissful than waking up next to your partner, their limp wrist buoying on your chest. You’d give anything for them, as flawed as you both may be.
Of all the “straight-up love” albums that have been released this year, Devotion feels like the most pure and honest, likely due to its crucial focus on impurities. Tirzah’s music shines best when light finds a way into its minor cracks. The refractory effects are warped and truly dazzling.
Stream Tirzah’s Devotion via Spotify.