In recent years, the reserved, 30-something English singer-songwriter Tirzah has retired into a new family life. She had two children with her partner, producer Kwake Bass, and they moved to the London suburb of Sidcup. She quit her day job and began making music full time, pursuing a long-standing collaboration with her friend experimental pop musician and film music composer Mica Levi. Tirzah’s raw and exquisite songs have always been intimate, but on her new album, “Colorgrade”, they feel warmer, not in their home, but in their shelter and informal character.
At thirteen, Tirzah began attending the Purcell School for Young Musicians, where she trained as a harpist. She found the institutional study stifling, but it was there that she met Levi and started a two-decade association. Since the late 2000s, Levi – who uses them / them pronouns – has existed along the outer edges of pop. Under the name Micachu, they produce soundscapes ranging from experimental jangling pop to alien electronic music. Their work as a songwriter can range from bizarre to majestic, but there is always an underlying incongruity. Tirzah and Levi’s early releases together revealed a common interest in wobbly sound: The EPs – “I’m Not Dancing” from 2013 and “No Romance” from 2014 – featured gnarled dance music that sought to resolve. The title song of “I’m Not Dancing” alluded to a quirky perspective: “I don’t dance, I fight / I don’t glow, I burn / I don’t touch, I feel.
Tirzah is reluctant to take ownership of the music made in her name on her own. She sees her process as participatory, the work of a brain trust, in conversation with other talented musicians in her camp. Every song she’s created so far is a byproduct of her connection with Levi – “Only doing what I did with Mica does it look good on me,” he said. she says – and her creative cohort has expanded to include Bass, musician Coby Sey, and producer Kwes (who mixes some of his songs). In 2018 Tirzah released their debut album, “Devotion,” a deconstruction of love songs that twisted pop and R. & B markers into something mutilated, haunting and beautiful. Compiled by Tirzah and Levi over a ten-year span, and drawing both personal and friendships, the album’s fragments fit into a tattered interpersonal diorama. The songs carry the tinged and lived quality of these accumulated speeches, of being honest and vulnerable, of trying to make things work.
Tirzah’s music becomes even more lively and random on “Colorgrade”. Color grading is a process by which the appearance of images is improved. Software is used to make an image more complete, giving it greater depth and sharper contrast. Tirzah spoke about the title because it matches the way she conceives of sound (Levi provided her with pieces labeled by color), but it can also be seen as a reference to the evolution her songs are currently undergoing – with the chromatic. predetermined scale not only increasing the complexity of its music, but revealing more of its details. His first album was always crooked and dissonant at times, but it had a pop sensibility: the songs could be catchy and regularly paced, with a sort of organizing principle, although it was unusual. “Colorgrade” ventures much further into the unknown. These aberrant tracks do not immediately register as arranged, much less as pop songs. Computing and organic are constantly overlapping. The album’s opening sounds like an automaton sweeping through the wilderness, interweaving Tirzah’s filtered voice with computerized voices and bird songs. The closing piece appears to be a science fiction transmission. Everything that happens in between is both disorienting and hypnotic.
Within these tender atonal pieces are discreet and cryptic ruminations on growing a family, building your own little colony. The songs reach the intimacy of communion. They aspire to articulate moments of unspoken integration – physically connecting with a partner, pregnancy as a symbol of shared love, and the peaceful buzz of a newborn in the home. “I’ll give you / Every memory / Every dream / Every recipe / And security,” Tirzah sings, on “Recipe”, his clear, monotonous voice amid a roar. “Beat” and “Sleep” both seem to gently relish the creation of new life. On the first, she squeezes through a hiss of static, clacking drums to sing of finding her mate, or being found by him, and their union producing something beyond their love for one another; on the latter, the distortion of the guitar becomes a swaying cradle, as Tirzah observes her baby, deeply asleep, in wonder. “When you touch me, I take out my body / Instinct takes place, instinct”, she chants, on “Tectonic”. Instinct is the driving force here – unconscious impulses, the senses impulsively responding to new stimulation.
There is a fragility in Tirzah’s singing that gives his songs incredible immediacy, as Levi continues to explore how strange and unfamiliar the surrounding soundscape can become. Together, they are masters of the place and the proximity, the strange and the natural, the shared and the hidden. These songs spoil the interspace. There are occasions when Tirzah’s voice sounds right to you, such as on “Send Me”, in which it is almost awkwardly close; and there are other instances where she seems slightly distant, such as in “Hive Mind”, in which she steps away from earshot, bending down behind Sey. This distance, at times, seems representative of a metaphysical realization that is taking shape. The lyrics to “Hive Mind” hint at an almost extrasensory connection, and when Tirzah and Sey echo, line for line, the album’s sense of collective consciousness freezes.