English singer-songwriter Tirzah Mastin introduces textured ambience to her experimental-pop sophomore album, “Colourgrade,” released Oct. 1.
In “Colourgrade,” Mastin and producer Mica Levi, also known as “Micachu,” take an experimental approach to crafting sonic intimacy. Compared to their cinematic 2018 debut album, “Devotion,” “Colourgrade” is more stripped-down, doing away with their signature grand piano in most tracks. The listener is immersed in a homogenous mixture of whirring drones and tasteful minor chord progressions. This latest album records the spiritual and emotional bond between everchanging corporeal bodies as Mastin brings her second child into the world.
Mimicking an inconsistent sleep schedule, the record mirrors moments of shared bliss and celebration with experimental discord, presenting a 10-track drama of an album across 41 minutes. Tracks like “Tectonic” provide a serene balance to the audible throat-clearing on “Beating” and the haunting sample in “Hive Mind.” Altogether, the album provides a listening experience that begs to be imagined as an abstract painting beyond music.
“To me, ‘Colourgrade’ is about the borders of our bodies, touch that you can feel but can’t replicate in movies, photos, writing or even memory,” Mastin told Stereogum.
This tactile focus drives a lot of the creative direction for the album. A former textile print designer, Mastin brings the ability to consider the sonic texture of her music. From a growing child stretching the body to the experience of dancing with a partner, “Colourgrade” paints the spiritual experience of being physically entangled with another person.
Written in the year after they toured “Devotion,” “Colourgrade” romanticizes the mundane — Mastin’s present time is primarily spent caring for her newborn child. “Sleeping” reveals a mother-child relationship as a focal point in the album. Running nearly four minutes, the track explores motherhood, responsibility, and closeness in a lullaby decorated by a drone loop: “My baby / Ooh, she’s sleeping tonight / Ooh she’s sleeping tonight / And I don’t, I don’t, I don’t / Want to go, I don’t, I don’t.”
Further, “Sink In” explores the depth of a yearning heart in an emotional waltz true to its choreographed music video. “Come a little closer to me now / Gonna let myself, gonna trust again, gonna show that I’m okay,” Mastin sings before repeating the chorus in a fade. At its most productive, the album ponders the many containers of intimacy as valid.
Mastin and Levi tone down the synth percussion and create a tone-bending ambience similar to an older track, “Gladly.” As the lyrics sound more mythological and intimate on “Colourgrade,” the instrumentation does too. The album’s title track sounds like a glitched-yet-coherent panoramic photo in its vocal distortion, while “Crepuscular Rays” stands as a bucket of unstirred paint with each color-timbre flowing together. Thematically, this blend of fleece-like texture and saturated color is content with its lack of form. Tangible lyrics take a backseat to the wandering movement of the music.
Minimal grooves and lyrics bring the listener to their personal interpretations of the album. Despite being minimal in their approach, “Colourgrade” achieves a blend of genres that maps itself between Toro y Moi’s “Boo Boo” in its chillwave sensibilities and Kelela’s “CUT 4 ME” in its sensuous vocals beside active electronica.
Mastin herself doesn’t seek one meaning for “Colourgrade.” Instead of imposing her own meaning onto the work for others, she defends the listener’s right to explore their own. The production speaks for itself, making space for the listener to fill gaps with their own interpretations. Similar to the music’s occasional lack of form, the meaning is wherever the listener finds it.
“[I]t doesn’t really matter how I intended it to be read; it’s in the hands of everyone or anyone that happens to listen to it,” Mastin told NPR.
Each idea across “Colourgrade” is elaborated and expanded to its creative breadth. Beauty in the album shines when the subtly round arrangements and intimate lyrics show just how amiable the record is: it’s not over-the-top nor down in the dumps. Electronic music and the UK club and dance scene isn’t where you would expect to find these meditations, but Mastin expresses herself freely from a blend of these genres.
“Colourgrade” stands out as a demonstration of Mastin and Levi’s range across experimental and avant-grade genres. The duo successfully discusses themes of love, motherhood responsibility and maintains a charming looseness for the album’s run time. Released during a time of great change in Mastin’s life, the album presents a deeper value — if there were a soundtrack to becoming content with an inner rollercoaster, you would find it in “Colourgrade.”
Mason Stoutamire is an Entertainment Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.