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Tirzah intoxicates August Hall with informal pop

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LILLIE EIGER | COURTESY

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JUNE 03, 2022

Wind blew through the hallowed Victorian-inspired August Hall, giving life to a stretch of sheet metal. It rippled with rhythmic uncertainty, sending a whisper of sine waves reverberating around the venue. 

The metal — unfurled and held tight by artist and collaborator Coby Sey — introduced the warmly warped sound of unorthodox pop artist Tirzah, who incorporated many experimental components to the May 25 show. Hailing from the United Kingdom, Tirzah arrived in San Francisco equipped with a raw, unfiltered style, but elevated her already alluring tracks to otherworldly landscapes. Joined onstage by Sey and MettaShiba, singer Tirzah Mastin crafted a layered meditation of inconceivable depth. 

Sey’s beginning notes on the metal greeted the growling vocals of “Colourgrade,” the title track from Tirzah’s sophomore album that dropped last year. An intentional project, Tirzah entertained a chromatic perspective to tap into the organic hues behind each sound. She flooded August Hall with prerecorded vocals stretched through an electronic ether — a cyclical chant that swelled to a climax. Her homey hum floated like seafoam over an undulating, pulsating synth, while radio signals flittered in an ornithological octave. 

From the beginning, Tirzah’s set emerged as a neurological web with different areas enlightened through sound-synapse connection. Crowd curiosity peaked as Mastin picked up adolescent rattle-like shakers and shrunken instruments, instinctively emphasizing beats like a conductor’s baton. The music seemed second nature, even in the reworked, slowed rendition of hit track “Holding On” off of Tirzah’s debut album. The song snuck up like a secret and hauntingly presented a shadow of the original track like a phantasmic memory.

In the newer songs from Colourgrade, steady beats connected the asymmetrical tracks and remained consistent throughout the set, leaving a palimpsest stamped first in the audience’s minds. Especially in “Send Me,” the repetition of snare notes and an ascending guitar loop didn’t drag the song, but rather spun a knitted cocoon around Mastin’s tender, beating vocal calls. 

For much of Colourgrade, Tirzah evokes themes of novel motherhood, family kinship and transference of love. The singer transformed August Hall into a safe haven of domesticity, where blood ties and familial bonds challenged the interspatial boundaries between artist and audience. Within the trio itself, an organic connection became tangible — as if an invisible sinew strung itself between the three minds and three bodies onstage. 

After all, Tirzah’s musical study runs deep, with score-producer Mica Levi and Mastin writing for over 10 years in each other’s company and confidence. In tracks such as “Hive Mind” and “Devotion” — which find their home in different albums — Sey and Mastin trade vocals in an overlapping and continuous call-and-response dialogue. Neither voice competes with the other; instead, they collaborate with textural nuance and create a lived-in warmth. 

Lyrical and musical themes repeated in Tirzah’s set, but specificity inundated the rich sounds produced. A lush environment of ruminating vocals and accent sounds lay dewy and fresh across tracks such as “Ribs” and “Reach Hi,” with each song offering an experimental interpretation of pop and R&B. Simmering synths and meditated off-beat drums singed passages to invite in alternate textures. Static rang in the hall and settled over the sound like blown dust, and xylophonic scales cascaded in tinkling titillation. 

Tirzah communicated color in its wholeness of depth, texture and body. The chords stacked like primary-school building blocks, and childlike interest ran wild with introductions to different methods of making live music. Tirzah deconstructed elements of pop, then reconstructed them in spatial and chromatic lenses — all before a crowd who clung to the pulsating lyrics for fear of being swept away in the current of the organic sound.

Contact Francesca Hodges at [email protected]. Tweet her at @fh0dges.
LAST UPDATED

JUNE 03, 2022


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