MEAWW's Basement Tapes: Contemporary pop, '90s-inspired indie-rock and retro glam blend seamlessly on 'Shamir'
Philadelphia-based indie-rock figurehead Shamir has released his self-titled seventh album, continuing his exploration of the indie-rock style he began dabbling in with the 2017 albums 'Hope' and 'Revelations'. But while his earlier work saw Shamir explore dance-pop and branch out to experimental, lo-fi indie-rock, 'Shamir' sees the artiste blend his styles on an album that reimagines '90s pop/rock for the modern world.
Shamir began his career with his debut EP, 'Northtown', released in 2014. His debut album, 'Ratchet', followed in 2015. His early work earned him critical praise, with some noting Shamir had a knack for creating unique sounds and others commending him for his vocals as well as his songwriting. Radio.com noted that Shamir's music combined "the honest songwriting of Taylor Swift with the theatrics of Lana Del Rey." He went from strength to strength, soon opening for Troye Sivan's 'Blue Neighbourhood Tour' and embarking on a tour of his own. And in 2017, Shamir dropped his first foray into indie-rock, 'Hope'. But unlike this album's title, Shamir's professional life was seeing some major upheaval, with the artiste revealing he was dropped from his label and has considered quitting music for good. Following a psychotic episode and time at a psychiatric hospital, Shamir was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And after his time away, he crafted his third album, 'Revelations', in a mere two weeks. In an interview with New Yor Times, Shamir, reflecting on the shift in sound and style on this release, shared, "A lot of people think I'm crazy. I guess I kind of am. But I also know what's best for me, and that's more important than fame and money." Fourth album 'Resolution' followed in 2018, with Shamir progressing further into this new style on subsequent albums.
In 2020, Shamir dropped the quarantine pop anthem 'On My Own' during Pride Month, followed by singles 'Running', which addressed mental health and gender dysphoria, and 'I Wonder', a meditation on love and climate change. The final single, 'Other Side', released on September 24. 'Shamir', according to the artiste, is his most accessible album since his debut release. It’s been a long journey from the pop music that made Shamir an 'Accidental Popstar' (the name of his own label that he created), through DIY indie rock and back now combining the two on what he feels is his most honest album yet for these times. And he really has done it mostly all “on his own” without a label or management. And this hands-on approach is quite evident on this album, as listeners can hear a true sense of self in this record that bears his name.
'Shamir' is, at its core, a pop/rock record. The elements of funk, disco, and more create a retro, nostalgic sound. Musically, it harkens back to seemingly simpler times, giving the album a feel-good vibe. And that is an absolutely welcome style from Shamir, who shines in his new Prince-esque sound. Lyrically, this is an honest, vulnerable record that delves into a myriad of areas very personal to Shamir's own life and experiences, such as tracks touching on heavier topics like mental health ('Paranoia', 'Running'), but also makes sure to include tracks that are pure joy, such as the short spoken interludes titled 'Pussy Juice' and 'River Is About To Die In This Garage'. 'Other Side' is an interesting country-leaning track that blends all elements of the album, from its retro pop/rock sound to Shamir's stunning vocals and songwriting. In an interview with Another Magazine, Shamir noted, "Early on in my career, before I started diving into punk and grungier sounds, I wanted to be a country singer. I wanted to be Taylor Swift." He accomplishes that dream on this track.
Closer 'In This Hole' also warrants a mention as a song that contrasts the upbeat sound of the rest of the album with something darker, bringing together his current experimental and retro sounds and his earlier Lana Del Rey-esque cinematic vibes. And once more, his vocals and songwriting shine through.
'Shamir' is a wonderfully crafted record by an artist who understands that pop music is what you make of it, and not the reverse. He doesn't fall into the contemporary trappings of being molded to suit the industry, and instead, reshapes genres so they are authentic to who he is. And while 'Shamir' is bit a mere snapshot of the artiste behind it, it's one filled with eleven highly catchy tunes that speak to an extremely talented and versatile creator.
'MEAWW's Basement Tapes' is a column that shines a spotlight on undiscovered/underrated musical gems.