Album Review: Shamir – Shamir

[Self-released; 2020]

Coming a mere seven months after March’s Cataclysm, Las Vegas singer-songwriter Shamir Bailey returns with another round of indie rock samplings with Shamir. This time, Shamir is aiming to shed some of the lo-fi that has airbrushed his previous records – mostly those since his 2015 breakthrough Ratchet – in favor of a more synth and power-pop-heavy collection.

Leaning into the dance-y vibes that brought him notoriety in the mid-2010s, Shamir mashes his countertenor vocals back to the sounds of Michael Jackson and Prince. He doses each track up with loud thumping beats and high octane guitars to match him every step of the way. The opening track “On My Own” sets the stage of Shamir, assisted by handclaps as he begins “I used to think that love was fleeting, you’ll just end up hurt / But it’s a cosmic game of meetings, that may never work,” which pretty much sums up the album in every way. He never wavers in his delivery, he bounces back and forth easily throughout the album’s streamlined 28 minutes (which is punctuated by a few short interludes, most notably the bizarre “Jungle Pussy” stuck second in the tracklist).

“Paranoia” has one of the crunchiest riffs you’ll find in 2020 from an artist of Shamir’s stature, but does share some similarities to the Weezer return cut “Hash Pipe” and he even veers towards some Brittany Howard-level howls. These touchstones feel intentional, given how much Shamir adores his influences on every record and on Shamir he paints well with them.

Isolation plays a role in this record – as it should since it is 2020, after all. “I prefer to be alone, but you can join if you like,” he tells us on “Running”, which depicts an artist trying to push through these dark times. It’s an idea weighing heavily on everyone, and some musicians like Shamir are churning out double their usual amount of material to make up for the lack of touring. “Can’t navigate unless I / Lose my religion, lose my sight, running with you through the night,” he continues. Shamir’s focus on getting to the other side of this is a testament to his resilience, and listing the sacrifices he’ll make to push through is helping to alleviate that pressure.

Speaking of which, “Other Side” directly follows with Shamir’s helium-inflated vocals reflecting on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, as he takes on the perspective of a woman who lost her husband in Vietnam but kept searching for him with their three kids in tow: “It wasn’t goodbye, couldn’t get a goodbye / god knows I tried my best.” Fortunately, there’s no transition to Robert Stack’s perspective. “Diet” is a fairly stripped-down affair compared to the rest of the record, and it possesses all of the highs and lows of a Shamir song replete with radio-friendly hooks. This continues with “I Wonder”, another downtempo cut that continues to bring the overall tone down a tiny bit, before transitioning into a TV-On-The-Radio-tinged ballad.

Shamir is wrapped up pleasantly with the minimalistic “In This Hole”, another slow burner where Shamir declares “I’m okay / I’m just dramatic/ I wish it was different / I was born like this.” It’s another indicator that Shamir sings from his soul and heart, making his music feel more emotive than most. While his latest effort is leaner and lighter than Cataclysm, it doesn’t recapture the essence of Ratchet, which may disappoint some despite the artist’s clear intention to change things up. But for those looking for a breezy indie rock record with Prince-vibes, Shamir delivers. Its light-hearted nature acts as a beam of hope through some dark times, and though it purposely has a pop tone, his underlying personal lyrics are as potent as ever.