Tender is the new release from singer-songwriter and guitarist zzzahara (Zahara Jaime of the Simps and U.S. Velvet), and it could not be more accurately named. Not because these are fragile tracks–most are hook-filled, lo-fi pop songs punched up to high power with neon synths, driving guitars, and a racing heartbeat of percussion–but because they are uncommonly bold in their vulnerability. From start to finish, zzzahara puts their feelings on full and clear display in music and lyrics in layers of creative moves that make for whole emotional waves in the form of ten irresistible jams.
Those waves hit fast. At the core of each piece and thus of Tender is zzzahara’s voice, an instrument capable of crooning, longing, mourning, and hoping with only subtle shifts between each mode. In combination with candid lyrics (“I like you / I’d like you to leave,” they sing in a simple but genius moment of indecisive conversation on the especially catchy “I’d Like You to Leave”), zzzahara as singer makes what feels like immediate impact with every verse and chorus.
They bring a full complement of relatable emotions (mostly breakup- or new love-related) to Tender: sorrows on “Dust”, regrets on “Wishing upon a Star”, pain and anger on “Girls on SSRIs Don’t Cry”, self-doubt on “IDK How to Luv”, affection on “Peppermint”, to name a few. Joining all of them is a thread of melancholy, sometimes faint, sometimes central, always manifest by at least a pang in zzzahara’s delivery.
The rest of the instrumentation and production revolving around the vocals are critical to the emotional artistry. A DIY atmosphere marked primarily by plaintive synths, beachy guitar, and wistful reverb makes listening feel even more intimate: zzzahara’s presence is indeed present. Lest it gets too introverted, though, bass and drum rhythms command enough attention to keep the energy high even on tracks like “U” and “Hey Familiar Face”, the peaks of sweetness (“There’s no place I’d rather be but here with you”) and bittersweetness (“I really hope that you’re okay / And if you ever really need somebody / Don’t hesitate”), respectively. Mainly recorded in a home studio, this album is musically about closeness, even as zzzahara’s raw emotions open up countless avenues for listeners to connect from a distance.
“What do you need?” asks zzzahara repeatedly at the end of “I’d Like You to Leave”. It’s a lyric that is both impatient, desperate for answers, and yet borne of genuine interest and compassion. Tender sees zzzahara turn this question outward and inward, seeking answers to and ways forward from heartbreak. At the same time, they’re proving their songwriting prowess, crafting songs that stick in your head just as readily as any strong emotion. Yes, Tender is poignant and sincere above all else, but it’s also a fantastic and sonically relevant collection of pop rock with no time to waste and no interest in beating around the bush. The real art here is in truth, and zzzahara never holds back when it comes to honest emotion.