Shamir – Ratchet – Review

John Preston

Naturally androgynous 20-year-old Shamir appears to have arrived fresh out the box, fully formed and highly functioning in the role of a very bright and interesting pop star. There is an effortless quality that exudes from him which can be applied to both his music and a strong visual look, all seemingly miles away from anything manufactured or media taught. His debut album is essentially a pop record and his influences are deeply indebted to house music of the eighties, the hybrid dance-R&B sound that Missy Elliott and Timbaland pioneered on Miss E……So Addictive in 2001 and also EDM from the last 5 years that is smart enough to know just when it’s time to pull back. It is relentlessly cheering and day-glo but with just enough diversity and intelligence to prevent it from being type-cast as pure dance floor candy.

Ratchet opens on a rare mid-tempo and is a smoothly stalking ride through Shamir’s home town. ‘Vegas’ is not exactly a love letter to the city with it’s payback line of ‘it’s alright, at least at night’, but Shamir makes it sound arrestingly sleazy and louche all the same. From here in the overwhelming mood is a hyper and fun but tightly concise with ‘Make A Scene’ being typical with its shards of synths, bubbling bass and a description of a hedonistic and irresponsible lifestyle which is probably at odds with Shamir’s behaviour (he is a self confessed ‘old soul’ and a serious knitter). Single ‘On the Regular’ kicks off with a clanking cowbell, its first appearance of several here to feature disco music’s (and Shamir’s by all accounts) favourite acoustic instrument, and a synth line reminiscent of Philly-Disco which was most famously hijacked by Madonna on ‘Vogue’. The bass bounces Shamir’s rapped verses around like a tug-boat at sea to utterly irresistible effect.

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‘Hot Mess’ and ‘Call It Off’ are brilliantly riotous and effects saturated bops with Shamir fully stretching out his falsetto and coming off as a more lush Jake Shears. Even the ghost of supreme hi-energy empress Sylvester is evoked on the slinky and smooth, nu-era disco of ‘Youth’. Shamir may share a non-binary outlook with Sylvester, although their image choices couldn’t be further apart, but he is more opaque regarding his sexual orientation. Although the ‘ratchet’ of the title does apply to the male variety, there is ambiguity in the way that Shamir uses it here. This never feels contrived or cagey though. In fact, it strengthens his refusal to be pigeonholed, even as a gender queer. The fact that Shamir even exists in his current thrilling form only adds strength to the much needed diversity brigade that falls within, and often outside, the current pop landscape.

Ratchet finally allows the party to quieten down, and it could be expected at this point that Shamir’s immaculate cover is blown with an attempt at a slower tempo which is where the relentless dance-pop genre can sometimes falter. With the song titles giving the game away, ‘Demon’ and ‘Darker’, both alluding to the consequences of personal denial and secrets of the soul, are in fact amongst the strongest songs and performances of the album and add a melancholic depth that secure the album’s start-to-finish listening appeal. Shamir and producer Nick Sylvester have created one of the most joyous and enjoyable albums of 2015 that succeeds in migrating pop to dance and back again and intrinsically understand the unlimited strengths of both with Shamir emerging as one of the genre’s most charismatic and likeable characters.

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About John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.