With the mesmerizing fragments of R&B of their acclaimed debut album Devotion, Tirzah Mastin and her handful of collaborators proved their skill at capturing moods in media res. It would have been easy for Mastin, Mica Levi, and Coby Sey to connect the dots between Devotion's vignettes and polish them into a more immediate-sounding follow-up, but on Colourgrade, they choose a more inventive path. Somehow rawer and woozier than its predecessor, Tirzah's second album presents different kinds of togetherness -- pregnancy, motherhood, romantic love, friendship -- in a dreamlike flow that reflects both the beauty of these relationships and the (occasionally exhausting) effort that goes into them. Named for the filmmaking process that adjusts tones to be truer to life, Tirzah wrote and recorded the album quickly after touring Devotion and while Mastin was caring for her first child with another on the way (by contrast, Levi and Mastin gathered almost a decade's worth of songs for Devotion). Colourgrade's expressionistic haze does a remarkable job of depicting liminal states that are complete in their own right: "Crepuscular Rays"' caressing guitar and murmured vocals embody the blurry closeness of the time between sleeping and waking; on "Hips," Mastin blurs the boundaries between sex, childbirth, and pure intimacy over cosmic synth arpeggios. Elsewhere, Tirzah expresses life taking shape, whether it's coming into being with the title track's protean swirl of sounds, or moving to the next level on "Beating," a bleary yet hopeful meditation on Mastin's growing family that's grounded by the starkest of beats. Colourgrade's celebration of togetherness extends to its intuitive interplay. Now a full-fledged member of Tirzah, Sey provides a foil to Mastin's sultry confessions on songs such as "Hive Mind," where their circling vocals hark back to early singles like 2014's "No Romance." Levi's expertise as a producer, sound designer, and composer is just as vital to the album's success. Anyone who loved Devotion's genre-bending sounds will be fascinated by Colourgrade's expressionistic collages of ambient, grunge, R&B, and downbeat. The molten guitar and jittery sound effects that punctuate "Sleeping" add to its sweetly drowsy spontaneity, as though Tirzah's audience is eavesdropping on a late-night (or early morning) lullaby. A surprisingly gut-punching kick drum gives "Send Me" its backbone, and even on more electronic-based tracks, there's an element of the unexpected, like when the dense atmosphere on "Recipe" gives way, only to return in a swell. An experience rather than a neatly structured set of songs, Colourgrade is a strikingly honest audio portrait of love and creativity. It was a bold choice to make an album that's this much of a grower when attention spans are shrinking rapidly, but like the relationships Mastin and her friends allude to, it's well worth investing the time in Colourgrade.
by Heather Phares