Published Feb 23, 2021"I'm not a woman. I'm not a man. I'm something you will never understand," TiKA sings near the end of their debut record, Anywhere but Here. It's a profound indicator of the theme of the album: finding balance and self-love as a queer person of colour. The 10-track LP is a collection of positive self-affirmations and reflections on relationships, well-being and authenticity seldom heard in mainstream Canadian music.
Sonically, Anywhere but Here revolves around R&B vocals, pop structure and stylistic experimentation. Tracks like "Soothing Love" boast the dramatic sultriness of D'Angelo's Black Messiah, while others play with EDM elements, harkening back to the sugary pop of early MGMT and modern-day Robyn. There are plenty of surprises in the instrumentals, with acoustic guitar and steel drums making unexpected appearances on what would otherwise be relatively straightforward songs. TiKA's low, emotive voice anchors the record, drawing listeners in with the singer's natural vulnerability and personality.
Although the album benefits from crystal clean pop production, it traverses lyrical ground rarely covered on the radio. Queer people of colour may find their words resonant. On "Walking Disaster," they write, "Is this love? Are you my master?" The themes of fantasy in Blackness and the beauty of queer Black intimacy are exemplified by lead single "Sideways," produced by fellow queer Canadian pop breakout, Casey MQ, with pounding stomp-and-clap percussion, dissonant sirens and an unforgettable vocal hook ("I keep on falling sideways / Rhythm hold me").
Throughout the album, TiKA asks, how much sacrifice is too much in love? How do we heal and own ourselves as people who live outside the cis-heterosexual white patriarchy? How do we celebrate ourselves when the people we love can't do the same? There are no answers on this record; only reflections which encourage listeners to look inward.
Despite its relative brilliance, Anywhere but Here starts to feel repetitive around late-album track "Ishmil," another reflection on a relationship set to an electronic loop that slowly builds around TiKA's voice. But things rebound with the final track, "Unless UR Mine," a queer anthem dedicated to the struggle of dating someone in the closet. The song delivers a compelling combination of EDM and airy dance pop that's liberating and celebratory. It also features a ripping saxophone solo, which adds another touch of style — not that the record needs it — before ending with a monologue about how panic affects the body, a fitting end to an album mostly concerned with Black, queer wellness.
Anywhere but Here is undeniably honest, cohesive and self-assured from front to back — a strong debut album from TiKA. (Next Door)