“I’m a multifaceted person and I started to feel like I was playing a character of myself,” Shamir told The New York Times last month. Although the 22-year- old singer from Las Vegas made funky, disco-esque electro-pop on his 2015, XL-released debut album Ratchet, he discards almost all of that record’s defining attributes on his true-to- self, independent follow-up Revelations.
Shamir was the centre of the party on Ratchet, and while he’s still the centre of attention on Revelations, he has flicked off the bright lights that illuminated the former. Instead, he pours his heart out on the comparatively dim Revelations like a lone singer at open mic when the bar is nearly empty, and those who are in the room are barely listening. He even tones down his unique falsetto, no longer accentuating it for kitschy effect.
First song "Games" opens with a keyboard line that initially sounds playful but bends in a more severe direction. Shamir and plausibly a label executive square off with lines that he likely plucked from his contract negotiations. “I said, ‘It’s just no fun.’ They say, ‘You’ve gotta own it.’ But all the money’s gone.” Shamir charges with understanding: “You just see the green…. But I don't blame you, and I won't shame you, but I can’t continue to play this game." In the end, Shamir is granted his freedom but admonished on his way out: “The truth is all up to you, but you won’t make a dime.”
Shamir takes a stand on “Games”, but elsewhere, he is bluntly honest with himself. “Don’t think you’re special ‘cause it’s about you,” he sings as guitars slowly grind behind him on “You Have a Song”, lecturing himself and deflating his own ego before it grows too large. On “Blooming”, a loose guitar-pop track that sounds like Howardian aping the Ramones, he points out, “You know I’m different. I can’t be the same.” But he defiantly declares, “I’m not ready to step down.”
“Blooming” is as playful as Shamir gets on Revelations, yet "90’s Kids" is most reminiscent of Ratchet. Although “90’s Kids” is in no way a foot-moving dance song (quite the opposite: it’s downtempo with an echoing chorus and spacious keyboards), its references to stereotypes of his generation are so grave, they can’t help but come across as humorous: “We talk with vocal fry. We watch our futures die…. We are struggling.”
When artists follow glossy albums with rougher hewn, less accessible (read: less marketable) ones, the former are often called the artist’s "experimental" albums. But citing poppy rockers Vivian Girls as his favourite band, Shamir has stated that dance music was new to him. He didn't know how to produce a beat on his own or even possess the required software or devices. Ratchet was his experiment. With Revelations though, Shamir shows his true self, and it’s more compelling than anything he’s banged out yet. Shamir's biggest revelation comes on acoustic strummer "Cloudy". “Used to carry the weight of the world on my shoulder,” he sings. But now that he’s getting older, he realizes, “I can’t keep
stressing over all this petty shit. The stress will kill you if you allow it.” It took becoming disillusioned with the music industry and parting ways with his label, which had worked with the likes of Adele, Frank Ocean, Beck, M.I.A., Kaytranada, Jack White, and Radiohead, to clear Shamir’s cloudy eyes so he could “see the bright side to everything.” Sometimes, clichés are true, as he realizes on “Cloudy”: “We’ve got to learn to love ourselves.” Shamir, now independent, is doing just that.
review by Leslie Chu