Shyness, as a young man once mused, is nice. It's always a submissive play, and therefore a source of enormous power in any romantic encounter, regardless of whether it arrives as a conduit of blushing anxiety or professional coquetry. For Shura, another coy Mancunian, it's the emotional bedrock of her work, stitched together from a young lifetime's archive of rom-com cliché: hair nervously swept out of faces; stolen glances across classrooms and lockers; awkward smiles exchanged over the protagonist's frankly bizarre refusal to carry her books in a goddamn bag like everyone else. Now she's roped in pop ubiquity Greg Kurstin to co-write some bangers for her debut album, Nothing's Real, is the 25-year-old about to start using her outside voice?
Musically, there are certainly some big leaps. After making her name with sultry after-club jams like "Touch" and "Indecision" (both present here, the latter in a typically unnecessary re-edit with more drums), the most striking step arrives with "What's It Gonna Be?", the album's energetic lead single. Powered by a sprightly electro-pop beat, it feels a little contrived on first listen, as though the sheer size of the track could prove an uncomfortable fit for an artist more suited to economy. Upon repeated listens, however, the song reveals itself to be cut from the same cloth as the rest of the work. It's a plea for love that finds it origins in the same anxious, nascently gay teenager that Aleksandra Lilah Denton once was, only now it's writ large; now it's a luscious, vivid thing that finds joy in pure expression.
The good news - wonderful news, really - is that nothing has been lost in the transition to grander sonic territory. It's surely no coincidence that Kurstin became involved in this - after all, he was the man who produced both of Tegan & Sara's last albums, overseeing their move from DIY indie kids to stadium-bothering synth-poppers. But his Midas touch only covers two songs here, and neither of them are glorious highlight "What Happened To Us?", another love letter to John Hughes soundtracks (via Strawberry Switchblade) and anthem for teenage confusion: "No I'm no child," she drawls, "but I don't feel grown up..." In fact, many of the albums best tracks have been stashed away at the back of the record, making it a delightfully slow-burn listening experience, with "Tongue Tied" and "Make It Up" following the formula of addictive, bass-lead choruses late on.
Most of all, there's a real sense of journey here. Shura remains at her best in her tender moments, as evidenced by the exquisite "2Shy" ("We could be more than friends... maybe I'm just too shy"), another document of longing framed by the growing pains of sexuality. But on Nothing's Real, she's proven that she can have it both ways: hers is a shyness that, while very real and occasionally painful, seems unlikely to stop her from doing all the things in life she wants to.
Release: 8th July 2016, Polydor Records