Some pop artists amplify familiar and universal feelings: the sweet moments in love, the twisting pain of grief. But others require that we listen with different ears. They ask us to let go of control, to resist the desire to fully understand music – to linger in the experience of melody, feeling and sound, even if we cannot quite grasp its meaning.
This is the heart of “Colorgrade”, the new album by British singer-songwriter Tirzah. The 10-song collection is a fluid excursion through the contours of trip-hop, noise, R&B and electronic music, but even prohibitive genre categories can’t capture its fluid depth.
Tirzah has long had a knack for meditative and asymmetrical pop. She received classical training at the Purcell School for Young Musicians, but today her practice is anchored in reserved and sharp experimentation. With producer Mica Levi, a childhood friend and Oscar-nominated songwriter, Tirzah released the astonishing “Devotion” in 2018. It’s a stripped down but bright album developed over a decade, one that ruminates on the romance and human connection.
“Colorgrade”, its follow-up, is a little less readable – and that’s exactly the point. Recorded after the birth of Tirzah’s first child and shortly before the arrival of her second, the album tackles themes of motherhood, birth, death and community. But rather than making a pink album on parenting, the album revel in mood, intimacy and texture. There is abstraction here, but it never collapses into pure experimental expression. Tirzah remains precise, even if it is intentionally raw and offbeat.
The title track, which opens the album, plunges listeners into this world with immediate dissonance. Tirzah’s voice breaks down into a jagged, vibrant distortion. âKeep your face straight Colorgrade,â he shivers, eventually coming into focus. “Did I know, I didn’t know I would feel like this / I wish I could see you again.” Her voice shines like patches of pale moonlight and is particularly striking in moments of wandering melancholy. A whirlwind of eerie whistles envelops the production, and his song of “I wish” leaves behind a palpable sense of nostalgia.
“Beating”, another elegantly rude number, sits at the center of the album. Slow but steady drumbeats waver to whistles, crackling whispers and twilight synths bubble beneath the surface. It’s hard to believe this is a song about the camaraderie and tenderness of a new life, but when Tirzah sings “You got me / I got you / We made life / It’s beating” in the last one verse, the clarity of the emotion is piercing.
Midnight melodies and sparse, repetitive instrumentation are at the heart of “Colorgrade”. Songs like “Hive Mind” and “Tectonic” are based on muffled kicks and rolling synths that fit into a sullen and gritty trance. The call and response duet of “Hive Mind” gives the song a rocking quality, and each lyric comes with a cool melodic stability that allows the emotion to hold our attention.
Tirzah delivers the songs on “Colorgrade” like little mysteries. Many of them are glossy, minimalist sketches. And yet, the album is full of tender (but cryptic) lyrics. This incongruity is what makes “Colorgrade” all the more magnetic. Perhaps it is a reminder, especially in our present moment, that leaning into the uncertainty and discomfort of the unknown can be liberating. It can force us to face difficult feelings, push back on protocols – and open up a world of openness and possibility.