Young Las Vegan proves himself a true pop star on this mighty fine debut
Ask yourself what you were doing when you were 20. If you’re not yet 20, stop everything now and go get ’em, tiger. But if, like most of us, you hadn’t quite reached your peak of expression by that tender age, and are maybe still flagellating your own pedestrian existence, take a deep breath before listening to Shamir’s ‘Ratchet’.
Shamir Bailey is the exhilarating millennial who has now signed to XL Recordings via a Las Vegas upbringing and a lifetime in genre-sponging, thanks to his sonically talented family. Eschewing the blueprint laid by his relations, he has spent his 20 formative years broadly, taking in country, punk and, latterly, electronic dance music as though they were all invented for his own dissection.
‘Ratchet’ is an anticipated debut. With ‘On The Regular’ and ‘Call It Off’ proving monumental over the last 12 months, the reception that Shamir’s mix of funk, disco and hints of Chicago house has already received suggests there’s a healthy appetite for an album proper.
It does not disappoint. ‘On The Regular’, the first single, has the camp carnival spirit of CSS’s early material. It’s tribal, fevered and technicolour, which is basically a holy trinity for dancefloor dwellers. Another simple beauty of this record is that most of the songs clock in at an average of three to three-and-a-half minutes, which means you’ve hardly a heartbeat to wait until each reaches its summit of cowbell, synths and chorus line.
It’s on ‘Demon’ that Shamir best demonstrates that his vocals can truly take the lead and not play second fiddle to the beat. His much lauded countertenor voice is reminiscent of the singer of French synthpoppers Phoenix – not even so much in just tone, but in patter, sass and sing-along quality. ‘Darker’ is another example of where the record is just that; its more morose qualities show the massive potential of this burgeoning artist.
If there’s a criticism to be made it’s that, while the vocals and the instrumentation are playful and intoxicating, there’s a naivety to Shamir’s lyrics. The line “strangers’ kisses and pixie dust” from ‘Make A Scene’ is indicative of his occasional lyrics-by-numbers, which sit uncomfortably with the maturity of his sound. It’s almost as if his words run in direct contrast to the wealth of musical experience he has gleaned over his few short years.
Leaving his youth at the door, what Shamir has in XL is a landscape where he can lay bare his numerous influences. The label that boasts artists from Adele to Ibeyi, SBTRKT to Sigur Rós, is not concerned with age or inspirations, but rather intent and expression. With ‘Ratchet’, Shamir has already shown that he is brimming over with both.