As a teenager, Tirzah Mastin was on the path to becoming a classically trained harpist. Attending music school, she found more joy in the songs she created with classmate Mica Levi. After finishing school, Tirzah worked as a print designer, treating music as a hobby. She released a pair of EPs in her twenties but her debut album Devotion, recorded with Levi, didn’t emerge until after she had turned 30.
Levi has enjoyed success as a musician, both in the worlds of pop and classical – they’re best known for their film scores for movies like Jackie and Under the Skin, the latter endorsed by Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Tirzah’s vocals are sweet and gentle, sounding gorgeous in front of Levi’s electronics. Levi’s backdrops resemble deconstructed R&B and pop. Tirzah’s supported by a trusted circle of collaborators – alongside childhood friend Levi, Tirzah’s partner Kwake Bass is her live music director.
Tirzah Album Reviews
When Tirzah recorded her debut album it was only a sideline to her career as a print designer. Accordingly, Devotion was recorded during the final month of her maternity leave, after the birth of her first child. Even though Tirzah’s music is more like a side hustle than a fulltime pursuit, Devotion is a very impressive debut. The combination of Tirzah’s hushed and intimate vocals, and Levi’s gently unsettling music is magical.
While there’s a uniform downbeat sound running through the album, Levi provides a diverse palette of musical colours. The heavy guitars of ‘Guilty’ and the glitchy synths of ‘Holding On’ contrast with the cleaner arrangements like the piano of ‘Affection’ and Coby Sey’s backing vocals on the title track.
Devotion is a splendid debut, the partnership between Tirzah and Levi resulting in gently beguiling music.
Tirzah moved to the suburbs before recording her second album, quitting her day job to pursue music full time. The press release for Colourgrade cites “a type of love that is shared between a mother and a child for the first time, whilst simultaneously working as an artist.” Where Devotion was occasionally disquieting, Levi pushes the envelope further on Colourgrade, pitting Tirzah’s low-key vocals against increasingly jarring music.
As well as Levi, Coby Sey also returns, dueting with Tirzah on ‘Hive Mind’. Colourgrade sometimes tilts into experimental territory, as on ‘Crepuscular Rays’, where the vocal effects are trippy and there’s less clear song structure. But usually, the combination is beguiling – whether the production is abrasive like on ‘Tectonic’ or pretty R&B on ‘Sink In’.
Colourgrade is often beautiful, even as Levi pushes Tirzah into stranger musical waters.
Trip9love is Tirzah’s third album, and her best to date. It’s her hardest-sounding record – there’s plenty of mileage in contrasting Tirzah’s sweet and sincere vocals with slightly dissonant arrangements. It finds a sweet spot between R&B and 1990s trip-hop. Trip9love is often minimalist, with drum machine and piano the main instruments. Additionally, the drum palette limited – many of the songs use the same beat.
If it sounds monotonous on paper, it works beautifully in practice. The lead track ‘F22’ is immediately claustrophobic and engaging, based around a lovely piano figure. It doesn’t all follow the same template – there are tough guitars on tracks like ‘2 D I C U V’ and ‘Stars’, while ‘Their Love’ and ‘6 Phrazes’ are minimal and pretty. Tirzah’s more dramatic than usual on ‘No Limit’, where her multi-tracked vocals are used to good effect.
Trip9love came out without warning in September. It’s a pleasant surprise – one of the best records of the year.
Best Tirzah Songs
2 D I C U V
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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