Shamir = NAO + Michael Jackson + Janis Joplin + Les Sins
I didn’t give Shamir the kind of first listen he deserved. I did pay attention when I first heard him—that voice! How can you not be curious as to whom it belongs? Shamir signed to XL for his debut album, Ratchet, and he deserved that for the sheer variety he brought to the table—I just never stopped to listen to the whole album. His countertenor voice melds with whatever genre or sound he’s playing with. It’s hard to categorize, and in retrospect it feels so much more deliberate. Ratchet had songs you could play at a house party and songs you’d play at a wake.
It’s a reminder of the talent that was relentlessly asserting itself in 2015. (The best thing about 2017 might be that it gave all those artists time to release new work. It’s been a good year for art.) Thing is, Shamir really stood up to all the new acts, and this album, Revelations, reigns in the energy for a much more pared-down sound that ultimately feels much more expressive and personal than Ratchet. Lead track “Games” is cold and repetitive, anxiety inducing, but it’s Shamir’s heartfelt voice that guides you and grounds you: “I don’t have much to offer you / But my soul, my heart, and everything I’ve been through.” The second track, “You Have a Song,” lays a chunky bass line against a wailing guitar, and he drones, “Your smoke is heavy like your soul / And I pretend like I don’t know, but I know.” The lyrics are always sweet, sometimes saccharine and seldom bitter. There’s a warmth to Revelations that was backgrounded in Ratchet—not only is Shamir still exploring how his voice pairs with different sounds, but his presentation is comforting, and his lyrics are kind. “Blooming,” “Cloudy” and “Float” all are anchored in guitar, expressing a rise, confliction and resolution in lyric and sound. “Blooming” is your carefree, jukebox banger (“You know I’m different, I can’t be the same / But I feel we missed it, and spring finally came / I don’t want the pollen and hay fever to kick in”), while “Cloudy” is moody and weary, Shamir singing, “Through cloudy eyes it’s hard to see / The bright side to everything / We gotta learn to love ourselves / No matter on earth, no matter in hell.” Finally, “Float” feels warm and reaffirming, Shamir slipping into a ballad of determination, always moving toward another day, the sort of song you want playing at last call.
Revelations lacks the theatrics of all of Shamir’s previous work. There’s nothing to dethrone “On The Regular” as a genderless sort of Broke With Expensive Taste with some Toro y Moi sprinkled in. “90’s Kids” feels the most passionately assertive, but it still lacks a danceable beat. Revelations has none of that, and I trust it to be completely deliberate because what’s here is drenched with a loving sound that is disarming at this moment in time. The best track is “Astral Plane.” It feels intimate and warm, like an old scarf in winter. “Beam me up to space,” Shamir sings. “And I know the world will miss me so / But I’ll be working on the astral plane.” There’s a flavor of escapism here you don’t find often, one that acknowledges change and uncertainty but tacitly wraps you into its departure from Earth, knowing that each visit away is another time we must come down. –Parker Scott Mortensen