Tirzah - Devotion

by Jon Burke Rating:9 Release Date:2018-08-10
Tirzah - Devotion
Tirzah - Devotion

The first time I heard Tricky's Maxinquaye, I was completely unprepared for how that record would rewire my brain. The combination of cutting-edge Soul and Hip Hop underpinned by experimental noise and electronica was deeply pleasing to my hedonistic, drug-addled, teenage mind. This was music which didn't feel peripheral to my lived experience--moreover, listening to Maxinquaye was an almost full body sensation. Tricky willed listeners to dance with his skillful blend of beats and bass while simultaneously forcing them to contend with all of the discordant, off-putting loops and sounds he peppered throughout the record. It all amounted to a highly-pleasing, rarefied listening experience that has been nearly impossible to duplicate in the ensuing years, with a few notable exceptions, the latest of which is the debut album from Tirzah, Devotion.

Tirzah's, Devotion is the kind of sleeper album that comes on slowly and proceeds to painlessly hook listeners so tightly they fail to recognize they're caught-up until, four tracks-in, heads begin unconsciously nodding along. Track four, "Holding On", deploys a fuzzy, squashed beat over which Tirzah rides, her crooning flow skipping along to the beat provided by producer/composer Mica Levi. What's so interesting about Levi's contributions to the record is the lightness of his touch. The beats are spare. Tirzah's voice isn't built-up in the mix either. Instead, the singer's vocals are so isolated you can hear every tiny inflection and breath. The overall effect is a raw soulfulness one rarely finds in the era of autotune and the modern recording studio.

Highlights from Devotion include the stuttering chop of "Do You Know" and the slow burner, "Gladly," which evolves from a lurching march into something almost tribal, in under than three minutes. Track five, "Affection" serves as a showcase for Devotion's unsung hero, the piano. Levi deploys piano sounds throughout the record in spare notes and chords which help to round out Tirzah's occasional, intentionally flat vocals. "Guilty" opens with a distorted guitar riff which quickly dissolves into a plucked acoustic guitar loop set underneath Tirzah's autotuned voice which is then layered over and over to create a whirling chorus of words and information that ultimately sounds a bit like Beyonce produced by El-P. "Devotion," the album's title track, is a duet with Coby Sey which emerges from unintelligible distortion into Sey breathlessly crooning "So listen to me" while single piano notes plunk all around his voice. Eventually, Tirzah joins in, imploring a lover to be as open to her affections as she is to theirs. Sey's voice, which is nearly as raw and lovely as Tirzah's, provides a soulful counterpoint to Tirzah's insistent demands for a love reciprocated. 

Tirzah Mastin is not new to music but her first full-length record feels so fresh and alive listeners will be left wondering where she's been hiding. Much like Maxinquaye, Tirzah's Devotion works best when listeners wholly give into its sonic charms, warts and all. But, unlike Maxinquaye, Tirzah's debut never feels pigeonholed by genre. Devotion feels more like an outburst of raw emotion and lusty soul and in this way, the album is as difficult to put down as it is to classify.  

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