Last fall, a website called hasshurafinishedheralbumyet.com made its way online, coded to look like a monochrome ’80s computer monitor. The answer to the titular question flashed in red for the next several months: "NO." It's the sort of stunt you might expect to be created for Frank Ocean's forever-awaited new album or Harry Styles's forthcoming solo record, not the debut from an English indie pop artist. But 25-year-old Shura has been on a hot streak for a while now: Since 2014, when her single "Touch" went viral (eventually topping 26 million plays on YouTube), she's landed a worldwide major-label deal, cultivated a seriously dedicated fan base, and nabbed spots opening for M83 and Tegan and Sara on their latest tours.
Which is to say there's a bit of hype trailing Shura (née Aleksandra Denton) and her highly anticipated debut, Nothing's Real. The record, which arrives at last this week, multiplies all the best parts of the nearly 2-year-old "Touch," and doesn't mess with the formula. Shura’s quiet pop expands into a shiny, fully-formed album full of hit-worthy songs, even if her whispery R&B sound isn't exactly groundbreaking. Elsewhere, she blows up her sound into electrifying ’80s electro-pop: The sassy, tambourine-led "What's It Gonna Be?," which was produced by Greg Kurstin (Adele, Carly Rae Jepsen, Taylor Swift), suggests what would happen if Debbie Gibson's "Only in My Dreams" got a slick, futuristic makeover. "Nothing's Real" and "Make It Up" have a frenetic Italo disco flare, all laser synths and groovy bass lines.
But while the genre touchstones of Nothing's Real may be recognizable, there's a distinctive spark to Shura's music. Shura, who is queer and whose music videos often feature LGBTQ relationships, seems most interested in exploring relationships from a variety of angles: old, young, gender-fluid, and even inhuman — "White Light" is about loving an extraterrestrial. Her songs are almost always introverted and shy, with the singer sounding constantly tongue-tied, hand-wringing over how to make the right move, asking crushes to "let [her] down slow." "Do you ever make it up? Do you wake up in the night and change your mind?" Shura asks over massive and unnaturally reverbed drums on "Make It Up," a song that replays internal what-if scenarios, as whispers of "still got time to change your mind" ping-pong in her head.
Nothing's Real, with its anxious advances and whiskey-emboldened partyscapes, plays distinctly like a young twentysomething navigating uncertain romance. A moment of weary maturity flashes in the future fantasy of "Kidz ’n‘ Stuff," with Shura singing, "I never thought we'd break up, thought we'd get married and have kids and stuff." Dressed in glittery pop that would be more at home alongside Thompson Twins and Spandau Ballet on a John Hughes movie soundtrack, Shura maps a musical debut that seems self-aware of its own beginner's stance. "No, I'm no child, but I don't feel grown-up," Shura laments on "What Happened to Us?"
When "Touch" first started to make waves, Shura said in interviews that it basically gave her a full-blown panic attack. "To go from someone who would put something on SoundCloud and maybe get 15,000 plays in a year to getting 100,000 plays in one day felt very weird. I thought I was dying," she said. And as much as Nothing's Real covers the shaky feeling of growing up, or finding just the right time to tell your crush you're into them, it also touches on the anxiety of a young musician finding her footing while the world watches. The dance-pop instrumentals of Nothing's Real seem to beg for narratives of self-love and empowerment by way of Robyn and Carly Rae Jepsen, but Shura refuses the flashy confidence and escapism we expect alongside disco flash. Instead, Nothing's Real feels mighty real. Shura’s debut gives us romance that is unpretentious and human, and honors the awkward realities of opening your heart to a stranger.