“Is that your underwear that is on the floor?” sings a nasally voice that drawls the very last syllable of the line, which by the end of it is the point when you decide whether you love or hate the singer. If you chose the latter, we get you; it’s not just her voice, it’s the lyrical content plus her whole demeanour and appearance. Yet we can’t help but be enthralled by Sharliza Jelita. There’s electricity in not just her genre of choice, but also her eccentricity.
Born and raised in Singapore, Sharliza has the backstory that is ripe for a biopic. Orphaned at a young age and alienated by peers in school, she found solace in the likes of Brit legends; Radiohead, Duran Duran, Culture Club, and Suede. So much so that they were revelatory to her career trajectory – England was to be the launching pad of her life as a musician.
Surely and serendipitously enough, with the help of a scholarship, Sharliza moved to the UK at 17 where she lived an immigrant life as she waded through the music scene. Going from being the vocalist of an indie rock band The Rrrs (owing some of her current sound to this particular incarnation of herself), to being regulated to a guitarist in electro pop collective Death Metal Disco Scene. But as a lot of struggling musicians in the region can attest to; the scene is often time ephemeral, band comes and go. Expectedly, Sharliza got disenchanted.
It was her short stint at Academy of Contemporary Music in early ’11 that got her back on track. Inspired by her songwriting course, she realised that music is a permanent atom in her DNA. And the Higgs Boson to that atom is pure passion.
Now bursting into the London scene in a flurry of quirks and neon-coloured confetti and mechanical rabbits, Sharliza metamorphoses herself into something on a pop harlequin. It’s whimsy times ten. Her debut album, Strange Things, is a left field pop album that straddles genres like the best of ‘em; Thriller, The ArchAndroid, Ziggy Stardust. We are not saying it reaches the heights of those classics though, but the ambition is there, and ambition is admirable.
Sharliza wrote about how the criminally overlooked Janelle Monae inspired her, and that inspiration is most obvious on the lyric-less ‘Volcano Sparks’, an energetic number without words. Other tracks like ‘I Want More Sun’ is cheery power pop that conjures images of summer time with your choice manic pixie dream girl, while the eponymous track ‘Strange Things’ showcases her more electronic influences.
While she chose to deliver her music in a rather off-kilter fashion, the topics are universal; infidelity (‘Is That Your Underwear on the Floor?’), urban ennui (‘Claustrophobia’), to lovelorn feelings.
Her voice will continue being a subject of contention, and it’s a very subjective matter, yet we have to argue that the singers with distinctive voices who are the more interesting ones. Anyone from her true love Thom Yorke to even Sudirman possesses the kind of voices that don’t quite gel with what constitutes good vocals. Fittingly, her ode to Thom ‘Breaks My Heart in Two’, an instant favourite of ours, is the perfect introductory track to her before you move on to the rest of the album.
Sharliza Jelita has the sort of quirky quality that permeates a strong love it or hate it aura, understandably, considering she’s the kind of artist who would get up on stage and ask an audience member to switch on her mechanical rabbit. Fortunately, JUICE is one for the freaks.