Some pop artists amplify familiar, universal feelings: the gentle moments spent in love, the torturous pain of heartbreak. But others require us to listen with different ears. They ask us to release control, to resist the desire to fully understand music — to linger in the experience of melody, feeling and sound, even if we can’t quite grasp its meaning.
That is the crux of “Colourgrade,” the new album from the 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 cannot capture its free-flowing depth.
Tirzah has long had a knack for meditative, asymmetrical pop. She was classically trained at the Purcell School for Young Musicians, but today her practice is rooted in reserved, cutting experimentation. Along with the producer Mica Levi, a childhood friend and Oscar-nominated composer, Tirzah released the stunning “Devotion” in 2018. It’s a stripped-down but luminous album developed over the course of a decade, one that ruminates on romance and human connection.
“Colourgrade,” its follow-up, is a little less legible — 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 engages themes of motherhood, birth, death and community. But rather than make a rosy album about parenting, the album revels in mood, intimacy and texture. There is abstraction here, but it never collapses into pure experimental expression. Tirzah is still precise, even if she’s purposefully unpolished and offbeat.
The title track, which opens the album, plummets listeners into this world with immediate dissonance. Tirzah’s voice decays into jagged, vibrating distortion. “Keep your face straight Colourgrade,” it quivers, eventually trembling into focus. “Did I know, little did I know I’d feel like this/I wish, I wish I could see you again, you again.” Her voice shines like dapples of pale moonlight, and is especially arresting in moments of ambling melancholy. A swirl of eerie whistles envelops the production, and her chant of “I wish” leaves behind a sense of palpable longing.
“Beating,” another elegantly coarse number, lies at the center of the album. Slow but steady drum kicks lurch over hissing, crackling whispers, and crepuscular synths bubble under the surface. It’s hard to believe this is a song about companionship and the tenderness of new life, but when Tirzah sings, “You got me/I got you/We made life/It’s beating” in the final verse, the clarity of emotion is piercing.
Midnight melodies and sparse, repetitive instrumentation are at the core of “Colourgrade.” Tracks like “Hive Mind” and “Tectonic” rely on thumping kicks and rolling synths that build into a brooding, gritty trance. The call-and-response duet of “Hive Mind” gives the song a seesawing quality, and every lyric is delivered with a cool, melodic steadiness that allows emotion to command our attention.
Tirzah delivers the songs on “Colourgrade” as small mysteries. Many of them are icy, minimalist sketches. And yet the album is rife with tender (but cryptic) lyrics. That incongruity is what makes “Colourgrade” all the more magnetic. Perhaps it is a reminder, particularly in our current moment, that leaning into uncertainty and the discomfort of the unknown can be freeing. It can force us to confront difficult feelings, to push against protocols — and unlock a world of openness and possibility.