Tirzah

Devotion

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AllMusic Review by

Tirzah's mid-2010s singles and EPs -- "I'm Not Dancing," "No Romance," and "Make It Up" -- proved she was an inventive artist, but they don't prepare listeners for the leap she and longtime collaborator Mica Levi make on Devotion. Those Greco Roman releases were emotionally direct, musically creative, and didn't sound like anyone else. On her first full-length for Domino, Tirzah still doesn't sound like anyone else -- even if if she doesn't sound the way she used to. She and Levi trade busy rhythms for a set of impressionistic songs that use little more than her voice, unusual keyboards, and the occasional beat to capture different states of being in love with frank originality. Despite these changes, what Tirzah's previous work and Devotion share is a quiet yet unmistakable confidence. These tracks are so spontaneous they sound almost accidental, yet their pauses and spaces are just as eloquent as the music; on "Fine Again," a sacred hush envelops Tirzah's nurturing vocals and a melody that glimmers like sunlight on water. While Devotion's focus is matters of the heart, its title also speaks to the evolution of Tirzah and Levi's friendship and partnership. During the years between Tirzah's singles and this album, Levi became a renowned composer, and her productions and arrangements are just as distinctive but more sophisticated than before. Her experiments peak on "Guilty," a collage of charred electric guitar, koto-like tones, and wildly processed vocals that underscores the track's bristling intensity. More subtly, "Basic Need"'s juddering keyboard steers it away from more straightforward R&B and puts the spotlight on Tirzah's desires. As attention-getting as her partner's contributions are, Tirzah is Devotion's fulcrum. Many of her vocals are first takes, and her realness grounds the album, whether on the rapturous sway of "Gladly" or its opposite, "Go Now," which finds her silencing a lover by singing "Don't raise your voice to me" with equal parts gentleness and strength. This emotional range reflects that love isn't something static -- it ebbs and flows, and so does Devotion. Tirzah embraces the sweet and sour parts of relationships, most poignantly on the title track, where she and Coby Sey sing about their aloneness together over a staccato piano that expresses the most fragile and difficult aspects of true intimacy. "Do You Know" is an imagined conversation with an ex that's so naked, hearing it feels like eavesdropping; later, Tirzah sounds like she's only inches away on the sullen and sultry "Affection." The album's vérité feel draws listeners into its ever-changing moods so completely, it's almost a shock when it ends. It's this skill at hypnotizing and disarming her audience that makes Devotion such a captivating reintroduction to Tirzah.

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