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It’s the blue that hits you first. A deep, dark but ambiguous light, bathing the passionate embrace between two lovers in familiarity, and newness. You wouldn’t immediately know that what you’re looking at is two women, or perhaps that the piece was conceived as a rework of Rodin’s The Kiss. But you’ll have certainly felt something like that blue, and on second album ‘forevher’ – a title entwining ‘for her,’ ‘forever’ and ‘forever her’ – Shura colours those classic images of love and self in bold new shades.
Where Rodin’s statue captures archetypal romantic love, ‘forevher’ sets out to challenge such perceptions from first glance. The artwork, says Shura, asks whether audiences can relate to queer love the same way that queer people have had to insert their narratives into heterosexual love-songs for decades. “I wanted to create something that people could look at, in the way that you look at The Kiss, and think: I recognise that. Or I want that, or I crave that, or I miss that. I wanted to make something that was specific to my experience of being a queer woman that anyone of any gender or sexuality could look at and think, “yeah, I understand” or “that’s beautiful.” Because that’s all love is.”
If you’d told Shura just a few years ago that she’d make an album exploring “all that love is,” few would have been as surprised as Aleksandra Denton herself. On debut album ‘Nothing’s Real,’ she became an accidental ambassador for the lonesome and rejected. Its themes of anxiety, unrequited love and the outsider were articulated in fantastical bedroom-pop, twisting influences from 80s-Madonna or Janet Jackson to Fleetwood Mac. Ever since the viral ‘Touch” – and its stunning video in which Shura, crucially, ended up alone – an impassioned global fanbase have awaited another record of heartbreak anthems. Instead, like most great second albums, ‘forevher’ is as full of surprises as it is faithful to an artist still laying her innermost hopes and fears on the line.
‘forevher,’ then, is a record born from romance. Written primarily about a burgeoning long-distance relationship, it covers everything from the initial pull of desire, to the almost childlike joy of finally being together, to recognising the moment when the connection develops from lust into something scarily meaningful. Here is a classic London-to-NYC love-story, but one told through the filter of dating apps or Skype chats. And whilst how to live – and love – as a queer woman has always been integral to Shura, it’s remarkable to hear these stories twisted into the fabric of the singer-songwriter tradition: this time around, the inspiration of Joni Mitchell, The Internet, Carole King, Todd Rundgren and Minnie Riperton formed the basis of the album, but with Shura’s own modern, outlier perspective. Before putting ‘forevher’ together, Shura spent a lot of time listening to these artists that she describes as “an antidote” to the “glitziness” of her first record (which she still loves). Overall, though, ‘forevher’ feels the same as its creator: a little older, a little wiser.
Shura started work on ‘forevher’ following a two-year tour cycle for ‘Nothing’s Real’. The period concluded with an intense eight-week stint in the US, where she shared stages with bands like Tegan and Sara and M83. Homesick and seemingly ready to return to London, Shura instead stuck around in Minneapolis after the final show with her guitarist, Luke Saunders. They spent another ten days sleeping in the basement of a local musician’s house, writing and drinking White Russians. It was in this process of messing about that the riff for “religion (u can lay your hands on me)” emerged, beginning when Shura attempted to make something that sounded like it could be “the soundtrack to a French 70s porn film.” “religion (u can lay your hands on me)” – along with the seeds of the Minneapolis sound – eventually became a lynchpin for the rest of the album. Just as importantly, it was in Minneapolis that Shura began talking to her current girlfriend online, and though they wouldn’t meet in person for another few months, the blue had begun to seep in.
Shura brought this renewed creative energy back to London, where she began to assemble the songs of ‘forevher’ alongside a close-knit circle of old (and new) friends. The album was again co-produced alongside Joel Pott (George Ezra, Mabel, London Grammar) with additional musical turns from Jona Ma (Jagwar Ma) and Will from Whitney. On BVs, too, are the all-female chorus of Rosie Lowe, Kerry Leatham and Reva (one half of NIMMO), whilst T-E-E-D – whose “Leave a Light On” affected Shura so much she DM’d him asking if he ever wanted to collaborate – worked on “the stage” and “tommy.” “the stage” itself formed the backdrop of Shura and her girlfriend’s first date, a do-or-die moment that saw Shura fly out to New York and seek welcome distraction at a gig (“we don’t wanna dance / we just wanna…”).
The songs of ‘forevher’ follow the emotional and musical journey Shura undertook thereafter. The luxurious groove of “side effects,” for instance, firmly shakes off the shackles of past love, but chiefly says goodbye “to that more anxious iteration of me. I don’t miss her.” “religion (u can lay your hands on me),” meanwhile, is an unabashedly queer sex-jam free of guilt, long-term future, and faith itself. (“I’ve always been fascinated with women being fucked by Christianity. The example of the perfect woman in the bible is a virgin mother, which is impossible…so from day dot, we’re screwed.”) As the album progresses, so too does the relationship deepen, with the risks and rewards getting greater and greater. Ethereal piano ballad “tommy” consider the subjective nature of “forever” within the context of love: its emotional intensity is given added weight when you consider the fact that it opens with a recording of a 90-year-old man Shura met in Texas, describing a dream he had about his late wife that helped him embrace the idea of moving forward with a new partner.
Time, death and love have always been intrinsically linked in Shura’s work – her family, after all, featured heavily across the time-capsule that was ‘Nothing’s Real.’ Yet on ‘forevher,’ the more pragmatic, everyday realities of these themes are untangled in exquisitely intimate detail. With its Elton-John-inspired keys, “flyin’” wrangles with the competing fears of wanting to see someone whilst being afraid of jumping on a plane. “princess leia” considers the fact you now suddenly have so much more to lose. Elsewhere, “BKLYNLDN” looks at romantic longing through the lens of texts, anxiety-inducing silences, and what presence and absence really means in today’s relationships. Ultimately, though, ‘forevher’ is an album that feels the fear and does it anyway: from the title track’s joyous recognition that what you have together might in fact go the distance to letting your guard down on “control” (“when I’m with you / I want you to be the remote”). The record closes on the epic “skyline,” which builds to an explosive crescendo before levelling out to peace in a way that evokes some of the lusher, linear moments on Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde.’ For Shura, this soundtracks not only her final relocation to New York but also a much deeper journey as an artist and young woman.
“In some ways forevher is a soul record sung by someone who doesn’t have a traditional soul voice,” Shura says now. “And I quite enjoy the antagonism of that. I don’t have a massive voice, I can’t riff all over the show. I’m quite limited by my instrument, and I’ve grown to like that tension: so much so that I got all my friends who are much better at singing than me to be my backing vocalists.” This album was also a chance for Shura as a co-producer and collaborator to explore all the nerdy stuff she didn’t really get around to doing on ‘Nothing’s Real’: a lot of harmony, live drums, auto-tune, tracking everything to tape, experimenting with horns, strings and Wurlitzer. Beyonce-style vocal runs were aimed for, missed, then turned it into something else – something more Shura.
Despite its universal themes, ‘forevher’ in many ways runs counter to the dominant cultural narratives. Not only is this a queerer record on timeless romance, it’s also a love letter to America at a time when everyone else is falling out of love with America. While the world at large is in turmoil, fuelling a collective sense of depression and tension on both macro and micro levels, Shura has written a passionate, tactile album about human connection in the face of distance. “The world – even in the four years between this record and the last record – has become such a different place. But I’ve been discovering these places in America and thinking, ‘fuck this is amazing,’ whilst at the same time being horrified about what’s going on. It’s been a really strange setting to have a really big love affair, and an odd time to fall for America itself.”
One look at the artwork for Shura’s second album, ‘forevher,’ and it’s not the relationship between the ambiguous, statuesque couple that you really see – but the blue. One of the biggest inspirations on the whole creative process turned out to be Maggie Nelson’s ‘Bluets,’ a dizzying sequence of prose-poems that dig through fragments of love, grief, art, and recovery – all of which, Nelson notices, manifest themselves for her in the colour blue. “For me,” says Shura, “the blue of ‘forevher’ is a passionate colour. It’s not cold at all, which some people associate it with, or the blue of depression.” Neither is this the heartbroken blue of Joni Mitchell, or Yves Klein’s blue of idealised femininity: it is closer, maybe, to Kadinsky’s link between blue and the spiritual (“the darker the blue, the more it awakens the desire for the eternal”). “That’s what I love about this colour,” Shura concludes. “It can be interpreted in so many ways, its meaning is actually quite promiscuous. Making this record I’ve come to notice it everywhere. In text messages, Facebook, on the street. Everywhere I look, I notice blue. Which is exactly what it’s like being in love.” And it’s the multiplicity of love that drew Shura to make an album that dissolves boundaries of gender or sexuality in acknowledging that feeling – the one we all know, when we feel it. Listen to ‘forevher,’ and you will feel it too.
Out today via Secretly Canadian
Out 26th March on Secretly Canadian
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First New Music Since 'forevher'
There are currently no tour dates for Shura