Anyone who fell for the electro-pop charm of Shamir’s debut album, Ratchet, in 2015, may wonder if new album, Revelations, is by the same artist.
Instead of pulsing beats there’s a surplus of strumming guitars and vulnerable soul searching.
There’s anger, too. On tracks such as Straight Boy the Las Vegas-raised, non-binary songwriter takes aim at the contradictory vulnerability of alpha males: ‘clinging to a false sense of pride.’
‘It’s about how virtually none of my straight friends were there for me in my time of need,’ he recently told Drowned In Sound.
On 90s kids, in his distinctive falsetto (‘Nina [Simone]’s on helium’ he once tweeted), he takes a swipe at the way older generations deride millennials for being fragile.
‘Our parents say we’re dramatic, but they always ask for more than we do, so fuck you,’ he sings
Released last week, it’s been met by positive reviews.
The Guardian judged it, ‘A bold, fleeting pop-rock record.’
The NME calls it ‘honest, misfit pop’, which, if it falters in a couples of places, ‘can’t always hide Shamir’s songwriting strengths.’
The reviews are hopefully some confirmation to 23-year-old Shamir (although one doubts any were needed) that he’s heading in the right direction after a couple of tough years.
Following the release of Ratchet he was dropped by his record label, XL. He busied himself by writing more songs and self-producing his second album, the decidedly lo-fi Hope.
Recorded over the course of one weekend in his bedroom, Shamir put Hope out for free on Soundcloud in April.
Then, a mental health crisis led to him being hospitalized.
‘I went into psychosis after a manic episode and was completely detached from reality,’ he tells me via a Skype call. ‘It was literally a week and a half after Hope was released.’
He was admitted to a hospital in Philadelphia, where he now lives, for rehabilitation and for treatment for bi-polar disorder.
‘Even for the first few days, I didn’t even realize I was there. I woke up in my room and was like, “Where am I?”’
Dropped and on his own
I ask him if being dropped by XL had impacted his mental health.
‘That didn’t affect me as much,’ he replies. ‘I think it was more to do with the stress of trying to work with other collaborators who weren’t letting me get my ideas across. That’s kind of where Hope came out of. I was just so frustrated, and I thought I’ll just do everything myself, you know?’
He says that attempts at collaboration were worst when working with ‘fucking straight dudes’.
‘They’re not going to take my opinion into consideration most of the time, and then their opinion trumps mine, and I’m like, this is my music, you know? I’ve just learned enough from so many collaborators to just take things into my own hands at this point.’
It’s how he now looks back at Ratchet.
‘I feel like it didn’t really represent me musically. It felt more like a collaboration than something that was 100% my brainchild.’
That said, he remains proud of it and the profile tracks such as Call It Off and Darker brought him – even if he’s not planning on playing them as part of his upcoming US tour.
‘I’m not like ashamed of it or anything. It gave me a career!’ he adds, not wanting to diss the collection.
‘I definitely feel very lucky’
He says that his health now is ‘much better’, helped by receiving good support and staying aware of his mental state.
‘I’m super monitored, I have a great therapist and psychiatrist and I’m just more aware of myself and know what it’s like when I’m manic or depressed.’
His family have also proven very supportive.
‘They really came through and were really great. My mom flew out to Philadelphia and visited me every day in the hospital. And I have some great, close friends. I definitely feel very lucky.’
Still, the episode clearly colors much of Revelations. On the track Astral Plane, he observes, ‘If you’re going through Hell keep falling through, the heat might be too much but a cold heart will do, maybe you find Heaven on the other side, and if you don’t at least you know you survived.’
On one of the album’s highlights, Float, he sings about the challenges of being in a relationship: ‘I pray the Lord has mercy on whoever takes me on.’
Defining as pansexual, I ask him if he’s single or dating at the moment.
‘Very single,’ he laughs. ‘Perpetually single. It’s been a while. I’m just trying to get myself together.’
In his own time and on his own terms, Revelations sounds like someone slowly getting themselves back on track. Long may it continue.
Revelations is out now on Father/Daughter records. Shamir embarks on a US tour from 4 December. Check Shamir’s Facebook for more details.
Photos: Jason McDonald.