If you have followed the career of Shamir Bailey – known singularly as Shamir, like Madonna or Maluma – you know that the Vegas-to-New York City–to Philadelphia, transplant songwriting singer with the piercing contralto/tenor falsetto voice and lo-fi sound-scape tendencies has released a painter’s colorfully oily palate worth of diverse music. Jumping from old soul to new soul to 90’s house, to electro-rock to alt-country to lo-fi indie and to fizzy pop on albums such as 2017’s Hope and its end-of-year follow-up, Revelations, as well as the 2014 EP, Northtown, 2015’s Ratchet, 2018’s Resolution, 2019’s Be the Yee, Here Comes the Haw and this year’s early winter Cataclysm, the nonbinary Shamir has a history of never repeating himself while uniquely mining familiar genres with gender-fluid aplomb and tenacity as each recording’s guide. “It’s not even a restless thing,” Shamir once told me about moving from musical moment to moment, song to song and style to style. “I’m writing new songs all the time. It’s my therapy. I’m not running either. Coping. And I hope that my coping helps other people.”
All that, and they (or he, though Shamir identifies as nonbinary “he” and “him” still work as defining pronouns as far as the artist is concerned) still manage to surprise and thrill. That’s the joy of the eponymously titled new album, Shamir, that came out before the weekend. Add to that, Summer 2020’s start of his own label, Accidental Popstar, and its first release, About a Year by Philadelphia guitarist Grant Pavol, and Shamir the artist is as busy as Shamir the album
From new country classics such as “Other Side,” (about a family torn apart by the Vietnam War), to neo-operatic moments like “In This Hole,” to tender lyrical tunes such as “Pretty When I’m Sad” and “On My Own,” Shamir – the album – is the artist’s most full-blooded and fully rounded album while remaining (mostly) true to his lo-fi-identity.
“I never judged music by its size or its production quality,” Shamir told me at the time of recording Ratchet. “I go by the actual songs. I just hope that my songs are strong enough to hold up on their own without pristine production quality.”