A Proud Ratchet
Just as he told the New Yorker in regards to his album, “Musically, it’s a party, but lyrically, it’s like my diary.” The tracks on Ratchet are arranged to form a narrative in reverse, first Shamir gives us his attitude and sass, and he then reveals some reflective insights into his life that made him wanted to rebel against what was expected of him; because in actuality, his eccentricity was accepted by the kids in high school, albeit the affection tended towards the perfunctory — such as ‘Shamir with the Guitar’ or ‘Shamir with the Hair’. But just as his idiosyncrasy was welcomed back then, well, it certainly is celebrated now, most notably his asexual image and countertenor voice.
To begin his album, Shamir provides a back-story, and what’s a better introduction to get acquainted with someone than sharing one’s hometown? In ‘Vegas’, Shamir spouts about the many beguiling descriptors that make up the sin city, but as a native of the notoriously faux opulent tourist attraction, he warns, “But if you live in the city, then you’re already in hell.” The beats begin to bounce more jauntily in ‘Make a Scene’ as he invites you to forgo all your frivolous woes. It’s also here—a starting point of sorts—where we hear the recurring clanking of cowbells and that acid house squelching bassline throughout Shamir’s following upbeat dance tracks.
The two absolute standouts from the album would be ‘On the Regular’ and ‘Call It Off’. The first one has often been compared to Azealia Banks’ ‘212’, but although Shamir doesn’t go off on a deluge of profanities, he instead retains the same unapologetic chutzpah and effortlessly switching between vocal styles — from rapping unflinchingly to a diva interlude in the chorus — it’s fun, it’s snappy and has a gaiety that impeccably illustrates Shamir’s personality. Similarly, so is ‘Call It Off’ which has an elastic, boundless energy by way of the bass and synth beats that ricochet throughout the track. After that peak where Shamir has brought us all out to dance at a late ‘80s underground rave, the record gradually loses its steam and its burnout can best be encapsulated on ‘Hot Mess’, especially in the sluggish, weighty bass that surrounds the track.
Arriving in the middle of the album, ‘Demon’ is the pop-stained r’n’b ballad that details his forays into indulging his pleasure-seeking ways with a negative influence, as he sings, “if I’m the demon, baby, you’re the beast that made me/ Falling from grace, we’re falling so gracefully.” Moving along, ‘In For The Kill’ is a curious piece of a single that sounds as if it were lifted from the disco era as demonstrated by the many signifiers within the song, such as the unkempt, interpretative trumpet, four-on-the-floor drum pattern, and the rhythmic horns. Though ‘Youth’ still derives from that era’s musical styling, it’s injected with a refinement that brings to mind veteran pop band Hot Chip, particularly in the way the beat skitters as it did on the British band’s single ‘Huarache Lights’. Just before the album concludes, Shamir tries his hands at balladry once more but this time ‘Darker’ bravely conveys vulnerability without the froufrou distraction of pop music; it’s just guitar, violin strings, and organ keys to bolster Shamir’s emotive vocals that resemble more a delicate cry than just plain ol’ singing, which probably is a testament to his range.
But if you were so easily cajoled by ‘Darker’ and feel a sudden empathy for him, ‘Head in the Clouds’ would shove that pity back at you as he pulled himself together from his momentary minute of wallowing. Although we much prefer Shamir when he is blithe and nonchalant, all that acid squelches have become—dare we say it—banal as its instrumental presence has become too familiar and therefore, becoming expected to the point of being a formula for the album. But there is something to be said of the recurring template of buoyant beats – it simply works, it suits the overall unabashed panache of Shamir’s gleaming debut of an album.