Waiting for an artist to drop their first album is an exciting experience. There’s that first single that brought you in, there are interviews that you devour as the hype builds, and there are probably at least a handful of live performances that cement the artist as one to watch. Eventually you get to the point where your thinking switches from “I bet this album is going to be great” to “this album will be great.” I’m sure that’s how many people felt in 2014 when Aleksandra Lilah Denton—stage-name Shura—released the single “Touch” along with its music video. Sadly, I was woefully out of the loop and my first experience with Shura’s music was in early June when I covered the music video for “What’s It Gonna Be?” Ever since then I have been eagerly anticipating today, as Shura’s first studio album, Nothing’s Real, is finally here. Now that it’s here, it’s safe to say that Nothing’s Real is not only an excellent debut album, it’s the best pop album of 2016 so far.
Nothing’s Real immediately stands out due to the fact that it works so well as a whole while containing so much variety. The album comes in at an hour in length, but doesn’t feel it at all. The big reason for this is such a mastery of so many pop sounds. Want some electro-pop in your life? “Nothing’s Real” and “Indecision” are perfect in their groove. Need something upbeat and danceable to bust a move in your living room? “What’s It Gonna Be?” is a love letter to the ’80s that’s just inviting you to cut loose. Do you like your pop music a little bit slower? The duo of “Touch” and “Kidz ‘n’ Stuff” is right up your alley, packing a ton of emotion into an echoing collection of synths and beats. And maybe you’re more into some long-form, experimental music. “White Light” and “The Space Tapes” combine to make up the last 20 minutes of the album, as Shura takes us on a journey across the galaxy, both in subject matter and in the spacey, ethereal sounds.
Shura produced each and every track on the album (with other production credits including Joel Laslett Pott, Greg Kurstin, and Al Shux), and she proves just as adept on this front as she does in performing. Each song is perfectly balanced, with just the right amount of expertly laid beat, offering electric instrumentals to create songs that showcase and build on Shura’s lyrics and vocals instead of overshadowing them. The end of “Kidz ‘n’ Stuff” flowing into the beginning of “Indecision” is a particularly strong example of this excellent production.
The writing on Nothing’s Real is similarly phenomenal, and was also handled primarily by Shura herself. The album kicks off with the video game-inspired chorus of “Nothing’s Real” and remains strong throughout. I don’t think anyone has captured that unique giddiness of “Do you like me, too???” as Shura does on “What’s It Gonna Be?,” and your heart will break as she sings about things that might have been on “Make It Up” or the devastation after a breakup in “Kidz ‘n’ Stuff” (yes, I know I’ve mentioned every facet of “Kids ‘n’ Stuff.” It’s a really, really good song). While those are some of the highlights, every song contains at least one standout moment of lyricism that’s some of the best I’ve heard all year.
Shura has combined her knack for production, writing, and her breathtaking voice to give us a debut album to remember in Nothing’s Real. If you are a fan of pop music in any form or fashion, you owe it to yourself to listen to this release.