KEXP is counting down our listeners top voted albums of the last 50 years in conjunction with our 2022 fall fundraising drive. In conjunction, KEXP's Editorial team is presenting 'For Your Consideration' some of their all-time favorite albums and what they mean to them. Today, Isabel Khalili reflects on Tirzah's 2018 album 'Devotion.' Tune into KEXP from Oct. 15-21 to find out what makes the list. Love KEXP's programming and want to support our work? Make a gift to KEXP today.
Initially, this series of For Your Consideration essays was daunting. Choosing one album from the last 50 years to put forward as my number one? I had to remind myself that it’s not necessarily about an objective “best.” It’s about how a thing moves you and trusting that that is enough. It can be fun to reflect on that and try to explain it to other people, but in the end, it’s mostly beyond words and entirely personal. In that spirit, I’ve chosen an album I have continued to return to with the delicate fervor the title invites. I feel good about committing myself to this, to the downtempo, tender, DIY R&B of Tirzah’s Devotion.
I was introduced to Tirzah’s music in 2015 when a friend showed me the video for “I’m Not Dancing.” I was immediately mesmerized – the opening shot, a close-up of her eyes, dared me to enter her world of off-kilter rhythms, aggressively minimal arrangements, and emotive vocals that grew in meaning as they looped like some sort of trance. I watched as Tirzah and her collaborator/best friend, the talented Mica Levi aka Micachu, flailed around, throwing punches and playfully fight-dancing in a way that showed, no matter what kind of praise was thrown on them for breaking new ground in experimental dance music, they didn’t take themselves that seriously.
Still, there I was, energized by Tirzah’s originality. I hadn’t heard anything like this before. Her first two EPs, I’m Not Dancing and No Romance, still excite me. I find a new favorite track each time I listen back (right now it’s “You”). But it was her 2018 full-length debut, Devotion, that solidified Tirzah as my favorite artist, and went on to soundtrack some of the most intimate moments of my life.
Devotion builds on Tirzah Mastin’s musical partnership with Levi's production, refining the duo’s unpolished, intuitive style. The production is spare and often repetitive, leaving plenty of space for the intricacies of Tirzah’s voice. It’s there – in her soulful, sometimes shaky delivery, in the whispers and false starts intentionally left in – that the essence of the album shines through.
It’s an album about love, but it hits differently than any other. The opening track, “Fine Again,” plainly states the things we may feel but fail to say out loud – “This is so pure this feels rare / I just want you to know that I'm here for you.” The lyrics are articulated like a prayer, rhythmic and steady. Alongside erratic bursts of melancholic instrumentals, I reflect on how the experience of new love can be as overwhelming as it is sweet.
“Gladly” expresses a simple desire. “I want you around me / Always, always / All I want is you / I love you / Gladly, gladly, gladly.” However straightforward the lyrics are on paper, they land like poetry when voiced with Tirzah’s soft confidence. One night, with limbs entangled and “Gladly” on the speakers, my partner and I found ourselves singing the chorus aloud to each other, both carefully switching to a mumble over the “I love you” part (it was a little early for that). We wrapped ourselves in the song, embodying its message. The swaying, warped piano perfectly reflected the destabilizing vulnerability of those early months. It became clear to me why Tirzah’s music had always felt so powerful. It was able to capture life’s most quietly significant moments.
The title track, possibly my favorite, opens with collaborator Coby Sey singing “So listen to me,” a plea he repeats until the end of the song. Distorted guitar noise clears out and gives way to a piano melody, disjointed and unconventional in its arrangement, but somehow sweet. Tirzah responds, asking to be fully seen, “I just want your attention / I just want you to listen / I don’t want the solution / I just want to explain things.” The back and forth between Coby and Tirzah swirls into a slow dance of two open hearts, never quite in step but all the more convincing in its complexity. The instrumental holds them sturdier as the song progresses. “Yeah I want your arms / Your kisses, your devotion.” Every edge is rounded with tenderness.
There’s a quality to Tirzah’s music that keeps me coming back, and after about 50 more listens during the writing of this essay, it’s still my number one. It isn’t overworked or perfected. It’s born from instinct and made whole with devotion. It’s an ode to how we attend to our love, how we return with consistency and care, and how that creates meaning in our lives. In more ways than one, Tirzah makes Devotion a beautiful place to be.
KEXP is counting down our listeners top voted albums of the last 50 years in conjunction with our 2022 fall fundraising drive. In conjunction, KEXP's Editorial team is presenting 'For Your Consideration' some of their all-time favorite albums and what they mean to them. Today, Jasmine Albertson det…
Martin Douglas argues for the Brooklyn band's full-length debut to be entered into the pantheon of classic albums from the early 21st Century, while exploring a controversial trope and the band's past and future critical acclaim.
KEXP is counting down our listeners top voted albums of the last 50 years in conjunction with our 2022 fall fundraising drive. In conjunction, KEXP's Editorial team is presenting 'For Your Consideration' some of their all-time favorite albums and what they mean to them. Today Dusty Henry reflects o…