The singer-songwriter’s vibrant, self-titled seventh album bridges the gap between his lo-fi impulses and the more conventional pop sound of his debut, without compromising his artistry.
Shamir’s music has undergone a few striking overhauls in the past five years. The Las Vegas native abandoned the glossy dance-pop of his debut, Ratchet, after creative differences prompted a split with indie label XL, and spent six follow-up albums as an “anti-career artist.” That meant forgoing the pop-star trajectory and returning to the lo-fi, bare-bones folk and country music he first loved as a youth, taking detours through grunge and indie rock along the way. His uniquely self-reliant catalog represented an effort to divorce the industry and recontextualize himself and his music, mapping out a DIY route to his self-titled seventh album. Here, Shamir’s esoteric musical impulses meet Ratchet’s more conventional songwriting style without forsaking his carefully built artistry. An upbeat and vibrant album, Shamir spans alt-rock, folk, synthpop, and country, heightening the drama of each unpredictable genre shift with agile songwriting and steely confidence.
Often Shamir feels like a pep talk to himself, with lyrics that offer self-assured counters to anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and difficult relationships. “I refuse to fucking suffer/Just to feel whole now,” he trills over jagged guitar riffs and blown-out drums on the standout breakup anthem “On My Own.” The song recalls the guitar pop highlights on 2017’s Revelations and this year’s intimate, fuzzed-out Cataclysm, reveling in a sugar-rush chorus that sounds beamed in from ’90s MTV. Shamir’s dexterous, featherlight voice remains his most powerful tool, able to bend from an offhand whisper to a high-pitched singsong and back down to a growl. “Paranoia seems to be my very best friend,” he quivers softly against a tense, feedback-loaded guitar on “Paranoia”; the clashing elements sound like we’re experiencing a sleepless night in his overactive mind right along with him.
Shamir’s flexible voice imparts joy, yearning, or loss depending on what the moment requires, but the songwriting on Shamir feels newly deft and expressive as well. He worked with several collaborators to help bear out his vision, including indie rock producer Kyle Pulley, who appears on nearly half of the album’s songs. The teamup works especially well on “Running,” where a breezy echo of shoegaze guitar backs up lyrics that wrestle with the conundrum of wanting to be by yourself and in a relationship, too: “I prefer to be alone, but you can join if you like/I’ll stay strong for you ’cause I don’t want to be seen when I cry.” The sticky hooks frame a writerly self-reckoning, turning introversion into armor in a prescient, urgent thematic throughline.
Shamir delights in pivoting from one mood to another, never getting too comfortable with one style for long. On “Pretty When I’m Sad,” a quick drum beat and multi-tracked backing vocals add a delicacy that belies the song’s depiction of a mutually destructive relationship: “Mess with me and face impending doom,” he sings sweetly over a jangling guitar. “Other Side” carries on the album’s contradictory nature, building a country-fried lament that scans as an outlier until its moody lap steel gives way to a sturdy pop chorus about reuniting with a loved one in the afterlife. The genre exercises only falter on the stark closing ballad, “In This Hole,” where a crackling vocal is set against heavy, plaintive strings. The mournful tone is sparse and effective, but the heaviness feels at odds with the rest of the album.
Over a lone, echoing guitar on “I Wonder,” Shamir’s sense of grandeur comes into focus. “I wonder if you’ll be the death of me,” he ponders, stretching out the final three words in anguish. The song builds over a minute and a half until it crests in a blur of synths and drums, scraping up against the piercing emotion of his voice. It’s a raw performance and a gleaming example of the album’s ethos: There’s no element Shamir isn’t willing to try on. By collapsing genre boundaries and molding them into his own homespun image, he’s made an unconventional pop album entirely on his own terms.