It’s easy to get lost in Shura’s ’80s-channeling doe-eyed pop without realizing how sad the songs are. The British trio is fronted by Alexandra Denton — who also writes most of their lyrics — and it wasn’t until I was sitting in a pew at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church that the undertow of brokenness really came through. Under a few strands of spotlight, Shura swayed and grooved together almost in one motion, doling out sultry, misty electro-R&B that would’ve opened up a crowd better performed in a club instead of a sanctuary. But the level of attention I could give to smaller details like the lyrics gave me a better perspective on the music Denton and co. make. “2Shy” is their newest song (and the one that won me over) but “Touch” navigates post-breakup hookups with gossamer trepidation.
Like most acts on their last SXSW show, Shura showed visible signs of exhaustion, and even mentioned the beating that their gear has taken during the journey from London. So even if their energy dipped at times, curveballs like a cover of Fine Young Cannibals “She Drives Me Crazy” kept the set interesting. It was also a great way for Shura to assert that though they might draw on that ’80s sound stylistically, they’ve got plenty of their own flourishes to add to it. For instance, Denton might channel Madonna sonically at times, but her casual baggy jean jacket and no-frills style is all her own. “I can’t read music, I just press things and hope for the best,” she told us last winter when we named Shura a band to watch, but watching her shift between a sampler and keyboard in one fluid motion belied her self-proclaimed ignorance.
And though the nostalgia of the ’80s looms large over the trio’s songs, it’s the addition of an electric guitarist who brings them up to the twenty-first century. The drum kit and keyboard/sampler set up is fleshed out by swooning, veering guitar solos that seem to seek fulfillment and never find it, mirroring the tension in the song’s lyrics. The trio are currently in the studio recording and writing songs for their debut album, and I’m interested to see if they veer at all from the ghostly, sad synth-pop at all in the process. “2Shy” is the perfect example of how Shura convert complicated, difficult emotions into simple and sweet songs that will make you catch feelings whether you’re in a pew or on a dancefloor.