After making a splash with his debut LP, Ratchet, Las Vegas musician Shamir (real name Shamir Bailey) experienced what, from the outside, looked like a dream scenario of overnight success. His album was critically acclaimed, he was signed to one of the most well-respected labels around (XL) and he had his face on a Times Square billboard.
But Bailey wasn’t happy, spending what should have been his victory lap feeling like an imposter—referring to himself as “an accidental pop star.” In danger of self-destructing, he took a step back, self-releasing Hope on SoundCloud earlier this year. Created in a single weekend, the sophomore effort was a far cry from the polished, effervescent, club-pop tracks that put him on the map. It stands as a lo-fi form of sabotage—blasting away the preconceived notions that never quite seemed to fit. And it came at a pretty serious price as a few weeks later, he suffered a psychotic break, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Now completely free from XL and his management, Bailey is back with Revelations, an album written in the two weeks after the aforementioned incident. “They said you oughta want this/I said it’s just no fun” he sings on opening track, “Games,” alluding to his difficult journey over rudimentary keyboard. The song provides little, other than Shamir’s unique perspective and equally unique voice—a gender-bending tenor that really makes you believe him when he sings, “I don’t have much to offer you/Just my heart, my soul/And everything I’ve been through.”
That continues to be a pattern throughout the album which clocks in at a brief 30 minutes. Filled with good ideas that never quite reach their full potential, it comes off sounding more like a nascent SoundCloud debut than a third LP. The sunshine-pop bounce of “Her Story” draws you in—the added texture of distorted guitars peaking your interest before ultimately losing it. The grungy bassline at the root of “You Have A Song”—so different from the dancefloor throb of Ratchet—feels promising before it turns plodding.
He comes the closest to nailing it with “90’s Kids” and “Blooming,” the former a combination of lo-fi guitars, stately piano and a more soulful lean to his distinct, androgynous vocals. “We talk with vocal fry/We watch our futures die,” he sings; a serious clap back to the toxic millennial stereotypes perpetrated by baby boomers, crafting a gently moving anthem for the world’s most anxious generation. The latter, a winning combination of doo-wop and sludgy garage, sees Shamir at his most resilient. “I’m too strong to just lay down and die,” he sings, trying to convince himself as well as us.
It’s hard not to root for Shamir. His fluid, earnest songwriting and refusal to be defined by anything other than his own ideas, makes you like him in spite of the fact that Ratchet is still far and away his best work. While bedroom indie-rock is a beast Shamir has yet to master, it’s Revelations’ message of survival and optimism that sticks with you. And so one hopes Shamir finds his way, fully realizing the album’s flashes of greatness.