Posted on Sep 27, 2021
A lullaby should be soft and quiet, but its main focus is not so much beauty as hypnosis – repetitive, appealing, unmistakable. There is a danger of witchcraft in the very act of whispering in the dark; an effective lullaby is an incantation that disarms you and makes you disappear, a needle that makes the seam between here and elsewhere.
by Tirza Shade of color is a collection of such enchantments, a series of fractured cradle songs that sink into the dark membrane at the edge of so many lullabies. The disc is milky-stained, eyelid heavy, exceptionally patient and indifferent to the outside world. It’s almost intimately voyeuristic, alive with the worldly, uncontrollable and overwhelming love that binds parent and child.
The record opens with Tirzah Mastin’s voice, metallic and liquefied as if speaking through a fan. The song is almost formless, a slow melody of molasses wandering in sleepy, imperfect circles. The words one can make out are tender and almost desperate, as if they were spoken in the embrace of sleep – “keep your face close to you”. And at 1:25, just when you think everything is about to fall into place – a drums beat or bass will land as anchors, a guitar riff will pull the melody out of the haze – a drunken whistle appears. instead, straight from a haunted house seaside carnival.
The title song never finds the groundwork you expect, but it’s clear Tirzah and his little family of collaborators – Mica Levi and Coby Sey, more fundamentally – aren’t looking for such neat landings. Instead, they created something entirely new, a record that eschews the deconstructed pop and R&B of the 2018s. Devotion for the essence of deconstruction itself. Shade of color is irregular, ongoing, as if being summoned second by second and redone each time you press play.
In 2009, Knife’s Karen Dreijer released Fever ray, a record occupied largely by parenthood and domesticity that felt entirely mutant, a wet swamp of music that drenched the routine in a slick of black oil. Shade of color occupies a different season on the same planet, from the brittle winter to the clammy, sticky summer of Dreijer. Despite their metallic weirdness – and, perhaps amplified by it, as the alien chill forces you to draw closer to the warmth of Tirzah’s lyrics – these songs evoke love and devotion, raw and pink at the core. Atop the slow-boiling synth and stammering drum of “Beating”, Tirzah marvels at the miracle of life itself, an ode to her partner and the growing child within her: “Found you / you found me, “she sings in a sleepy voice. “You had me / I had you / we made life / it beats.”
Over the squeak of the tingling plastic and the deteriorating guitar lazily stretching out over “Sleeping”, she sings “My baby / she sleeps tonight”. Tirzah’s words are often difficult to understand, but when she can be understood, she is direct, warm, dedicated: “I hold you tight / so close, I hold you / I hold you tight.”
And sometimes there is no say. The centerpiece of the record is six-and-a-half-minute “Crepuscular Rays”, a wordless cloud of a song that finds Tirzah murmuring and buzzing in a crystal-clear tunnel of softly strummed guitar. If it sounds heavy, that’s because it should be. But in the hands of Tirzah and his collaborators, “Crepuscular Rays” transcends; words of love distilled into a pure sound, it is just as enlightening as its namesake.
At the first listening, Shade of color can be frustrating for its utter insularity and contempt for the pop structure. His deteriorating guitars, fractured rhythms and atmosphere in the room never fit into something as immediate as Devotion‘s “Holding On” or “Glydly”. But it’s a daring act, to make a record that looks so much like a piece of its creator’s DNA, littered with musk and skin and the shadow and light of life.
And despite the subject’s sweet intimacy, the music itself is menacing, sultry, sideways and delusional and at times frightening. There is a destabilizing intensity in the compositions of the trio, a total lack of self-awareness and a feeling of total freedom, as if the record had been made without any intention of releasing it. These songs aren’t catchy earworms but ghostly parasites, burrowing into the folds of your brain and asking you to surrender to their half-sleep state.
On the cover, Tirzah is leafing through a picture book for children. Her page, taken like a wave in the middle of the crash, fades into the air, its edges dissolving to nothing and painting the air pink and orange. It is Shade of colorthe magic of it captures the quiet grind of life at its most unreal, domestic love and child rearing and sleep and exhaustion in something suddenly, surprisingly unknown. (Domino)