shamir

When I moved to a new city for university eight years ago I’d find myself at the student union’s indie disco every Wednesday night. At the risk of sounding like an old man yelling at a cloud (or a rookie VICE scribe), nothing much about those sorts of nights seems to have changed since. Yer Cribs ‘n’ Libs remain intact, the old guard represented by the same rotation of Smiths, Pulp and Blur, and even the token electro section behaves like Hot Chip were over after ‘Over and Over’.

For some reason unbeknownst to me, much of ‘Ratchet’ – the debut album from 20-year old Las Vegas wunderkind Shamir Bailey – takes me back to those weekly thirty minutes of bleepy mayhem. Its perky lead singles, ‘On the Regular’ and ‘Call It Off’, both perfect synthetic confectionaries, would have slotted in perfectly with ‘Golden Skans’ or ‘Alala’ with no one batting an eyelid. But this gut reaction does Shamir a total disservice, and there’s far more to ‘Ratchet’ than soundtracking a blitzed evening.

The irrepressible ‘Make a Scene’ has an anthem’s trappings – burbling synths, a joyous hook and a devil-may-care attitude – but its lyrics heap scorn upon the culture those songs were jerrybuilt for. “Live it up,” he raps, “it’s Saturday night, so let’s puke our guts up and start some fights.” You get the sense Shamir doesn’t mind being understood, but you wonder if he may regret it a little later on. Likewise, the hyper-detailed arrangements of ‘Vegas’ immediately recall ‘Sign ‘O’ the Times’, but its cynicism towards teenage suburban living is pure punk rock.

Sadly, joke or not, the bangers start to wear a little thin as the album goes on. Fortunately, Shamir does downtempo even better – the sultry ‘Beast’ is a wonderful coming-of-age romance, but ‘Darker’ is the real highlight. Starting with some moody soundtrack strings and tense drumrolls, it strips itself back almost immediately, becoming another falsetto-led doff of the cap to The Purple One – this time, the dusky optimism of ‘The Cross’.

‘Darker’ shows that, when Shamir strips it all back, he’s absolutely on to something great. While ‘Ratchet’ isn’t the immaculate conception of a fully formed artist, it does demonstrate that its creator knows his shit. He’s as vocal about his love for Vivian Girls and The Slits as he is about Prince or Larry Levan, and it’s fascinating to hear. As it is, Bailey is laying all his cards on the table with his debut; with such a precocious debut, you can only hope he picks a path for the follow-up. Lord knows time is on his side.

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