On her debut Nothing’s Real, there wasn’t much about Shura that exhibited the traditional trappings of a pop star. There were great songs there, sure, with 2Shy being the 2010s’ best shoulda-been synthpop hit after Carly Rae Jepsen’s Run Away With Me, but the album itself was a lot quieter and subtler, driven by anxieties and uncertainty that naturally didn’t translate into the mainstream space, but ultimately carved Shura into an outsider icon-in-waiting. But in the three years since, a lot has changed with Shura, finding love and discovering the allure of America, and feeding that through a newfound confidence that permeates across sophomore album forevher.
For the most part though, while there’s definitely a lightness to this album that feeds into its natural fluidity, forevher is a rather concise continuation of the vision that Shura laid out on her debut. This is the sort of synthpop album that balances out an unashamedly low-key presentation with a lushness and lucidity that gives the gorgeous sense of melody that Shura has become known for. And yet, it’s still not quite enough to pass Nothing’s Real, mostly because there’s a clear disparity here between where Shura’s further experimentation remains so defiant, and where the general, safer formula is ebbed back into more readily. That’s not to say this is a bad album – far from it, in fact – but forevher works better as an advancement rather than an full-blown overhaul, and there’s only so much that can be done with that.
That’s easiest to grasp in the writing, where the anxieties might feel less pronounced here, but they haven’t exactly gone away. It’s mainly grounded in a fear of flying that encapsulates Shura’s nerves about traveling overseas to see her girlfriend, brought out in metaphors of death on princess leia, but also worries of her own perceived clinginess and insecurity on flyin’. They’re the sort of smaller, more niggling human concerns that previously characterised Shura as an artist far removed from the pop elite, but they can feel a bit out of place here, especially after the album’s first leg that revels in its confidence and sexuality. Songs like religion (u can lay your hands on me) and the stage convey the steamier, sexually-charged desire excellently, particularly with Shura’s very waifish vocal delivery that balances out between tightness and smokiness really well. And with the embrace of America in BKLYNLDN and the parallels and contrasts to her own sense of love found within it on tommy, forevher has a wider reach thematically while still doing a good job at keeping the focus closed in and well-honed.
It feels like an attempt was made to do something similar in the execution and instrumentation as well, with the tighter, slinkier grooves, thinned-out guitars and dappling synths latching onto a propulsiveness akin to modern pop, but with the scratchier production of the indie scene that’s always given Shura’s material the personality it has. It’s just a shame that doesn’t last, and while the aching sense of delicacy in the slower-burning tracks is still good, it struggles to match just how good a more groove-driven variation on this sound is. That said, there’s a real beauty to the ethereal pianos of tommy with a swell that could’ve been lifted from an ‘80s power-ballad, and the firmer bass on flyin’ and forever do land on a comfortable middle ground with a liquidity that’s phenomenally easy to just soak in. For any relative gripes that can be made, though, the composition of forevher really is something remarkable, working with such a precision that keeps that ear for understated melody, and allows it to breathe and grow in among its own natural progressions. It feels crucially organic, and that’s arguably what gives Shura the biggest edge when it comes to synthpop compared to a lot of her contemporaries.
And even if forevher isn’t quite up to the standard of its predecessor, it shows Shura’s evolution as an artist in a way that’s certainly incremental, but is working towards another shot of real excellence not too far down the road in the same vein as Nothing’s Real. There’s a creativity that remains on show here, underscored by an emotional evolution that has presence that feels refreshing and new here. Consistency can be a spotty at points, but when Shura hits her stride and really goes for broke, there’s some of the most effectively lush and textured synthpop on this album that’s been released all year. Shura still mightn’t be a pop star in the traditional sense, but this proves that she really isn’t trying to be, and she’s all the better for it.
For fans of: MUNA, The Japanese House, Tegan And Sara
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘forevher’ by Shura is out now on Secretly Canadian.