Shamir wasn’t just going to slide by after releasing the eclectic pop treasure Ratchet in 2015, oh no. You can’t just drop an album like that and expect to go about your business.
Shamir’s soulful voice and Nick Sylvester’s banger-oriented production made for a mainstream miracle. Nobody was immune to the dancey synths and unabashed cockiness of the album’s hit single, “On The Regular“; it was just indisputably good. That song surpassed music snobbery and commercial garbage, spanning across tastes and audiences and putting Shamir on every attentive music fan’s radar. As the third track on Ratchet, it served as a nice little appetizer, sandwiched between clubby anthems “Call It Off” and “Make A Scene.”
The rest of the album maintained the groove but put Shamir’s vocal expertise front and center. Executives couldn’t resist using his unique talent and charisma for commercial gain: “On The Regular” was featured in an advertisement for the Android Wear, and he performed an acoustic bit for an Apple Music TV spot (he was also featured on some of their billboards). Shamir certainly has that star quality, so much so that it started to shroud his raw talent. But with the surprise release of his self-recorded confessional, Hope, and his separation from XL Recordings, Shamir dropped the corporate golden boy brand before it got tacky.
Hope is a four-track-recorded, guitar-driven collection of ’90s-inspired, lo-fi pop. “I made this album this past weekend stuck in my room with just a 4 track feeling hopeless about my love for music,” Shamir wrote to accompany the SoundCloud release. “I love pop music, I love outsider music, and I love lofi music, this is my way of combining all three.” The title track fearlessly opens the record with a powerful fuzzy guitar and Shamir’s classic vocals with an added level of scrappy intensity not heard on Ratchet. The 35-minute album wavers between punchy angst and tenderness.
Shamir mirrored Hope’s return to his DIY roots in the live setting Tuesday, performing at his old stomping grounds, Silent Barn, in conjunction with the Barn’s Fall Fundraiser Week. He showed up about an hour before the first band went on, just a guy at a gig, guitar on his back over a LVL Up T-shirt. There were no fangirls or boys crowding him, and he chatted and circled the patio until the first band, Hypoluxo, took the stage. Shamir stood by, watching each set attentively. The crowd was soft and supportive, and Shamir blended right in. Hypoluxo’s cohesive noise drew in and energized the crowd; the Matt Berninger-like vocals and Brooklyn shoegaze kickstarted the evening’s unified energy. Zenizen kept the pace with smooth and bouncy melodies, followed by gobbinjr’s dose of basement dream pop.
Shamir went on last, sporting his new signature butterfly clip and a gold-glittered guitar. He looked ethereal with an effortless punky glam, kind of like ’90s Liz Phair. He seemed at home, speaking to the audience as if they were friends — and many probably were. It was clear that Shamir was in his element: no backing band, no fancy stage lighting or effects, just Shamir sharing his art.
He began his set with a few unreleased songs, telling the audience: “I want you guys to shout out yay or nay after each one, OK? Be honest.” Opener “All The Places That Nobody Wants To Be” was a peek into Shamir’s psyche, as well as his new sound and expanding body of work. “This one’s a little weird” was how he introduced the next song, titled “Scream.” “WE LIKE WEIRD!” someone shouted back. The song was anything but weird; it was a confessional number about feeling yourself get sucked into the music industry’s insincerity. “It’s not your song they’re playing on the radio,” he belts over his booming guitar. The next song he previewed, “Hell,” featured a coy Shamir singing about being a sparkling nightmare.
Shamir’s forthcoming third album, Revelations, will be out in November via Father/Daughter records — “Right before I turn 23,” Shamir pointed out. The album’s premiere single, “90s Kids,” was released earlier this month, giving the loving Shamir fans in the audience free range to sing along last night. He played a few more unreleased songs from Revelations including “Blooming,” “Straight Boy,” and “Float,” and if those songs are any indication, Revelations is going to be a stark return to DIY: based in whimsical, organic instrumentation, bedroom pop, millennial-centric observations, and intimate personal anecdotes.
Before “Blooming,” Shamir joked, “I’m like Taylor Swift because…” he was met with silence. “I only write songs about people I hate. That’s the only thing we have in common, OK?!” Everyone laughed. Shamir could do no wrong. Similar to “90’s Kids,” “Blooming” is relatable, acoustic pop. The song revolves around Shamir’s springtime sadness and an unsavory former love interest. “You smoke reds, and I smoke lights,” he sang with an eye roll before launching into another song. “This next one, I think a lot of people can relate to… it’s called ‘Straight Boy,’” Shamir announced to a chorus of “YAAAS” from the crowd. “Someone tell me why I always seem to let these straight boys ruin my life?” “Straight Boy” is another melodic bout of frustration, and he shared that it will be the second single off of Revelations. Shamir ended his set with a few songs from Hope. Unsurprisingly, Ratchet was left untouched, solidifying his renewed direction.
Carried by candor, Shamir’s performance exemplified his shift from radio hits to unfussy autobiographical ballads. The performance, appropriately set at the volunteer-run community space Silent Barn, where Shamir once lived, was honest and fanfare-free, a place where fans could soak up Shamir’s new sound. It goes without saying that he has successfully eschewed that “‘On The Regular’ guy” label.