Written by Helena McFadzean
If you’re expecting party boppers like On The Regular from Shamir’s debut album Ratchet, his new release may not be for you. The artist has completely switched up his style, along with his label, ditching the party-pop in favour of a much more pared-down and daringly honest approach. Revelations feels like a second debut, building up Shamir’s musical efforts from scratch once again.
This reconstruction is reflected in the lo-fi and simplistic qualities of its music. The album is decidedly raw, featuring Shamir’s unprocessed, sometimes out-of-tune voice and loose instrumentals. Topically, it’s a piece of work processing struggle, vulnerability and intentional recovery.
While this complete 180° change in musical style and aesthetic may come as a shock to listeners, these developments were inevitable from the start. Shamir Bailey himself has confessed to having committed to a genre in his debut with XL Recordings which he didn’t like, let alone understand.
He released a second (unofficial) LP spontaneously and hastily without the label, after having been dropped by XL for choosing to pursue another direction. Within one weekend, Shamir self-released Hope on Soundcloud, creating a whirlwind with his newly adopted lo-fi bedroom pop. He has since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder after experiencing a psychotic breakdown following the release of Hope.
Revelations was recorded immediately after Shamir Bailey’s hospitalisation following the events surrounding Hope. While continuing on the momentum of his reinvention, the album represents more than just a change in musical style – it’s part of Shamir’s recovery and decisive reconstruction of his own identity. The songs in Revelations are raw, honest, simple and soothing. It seems that Shamir channelled a lot of his vulnerability into this album, and it, in turn, soothed him for it.
Cloudy, which is reminiscent of the country music of Shamir’s youth, is a healing song, preaching the message of self-love and reassuring those suffering with personal issues. “With cloudy eyes it’s hard to see / the bright side to everything” is one of the many pieces of wisdom shared. While the message of this song is beautiful, it does lack consonance which would make the song a lot more soothing. Rather than consoling listeners, the clumsy bass and carelessly constructed melody are more of an effort and pain to listen to, defeating the purpose of the lyrics.
The cover is particularly striking, depicting Shamir without both his mouth and eyes, adorned with a butterfly hairclip and see-through choker against a bleakly dark teal background. It suggests both the numbness and vulnerability of the artist in his phase of recovery. While he is blinded and therefore trying to shut out the world for his sake, he is also speechless, having lost his voice, which he slowly rebuilds from its foundations through Revelations.
The artist’s moment of recovery culminates in the song Float, a power ballad about Shamir’s won battle with insecurity and overcome fears of being left behind. He challenges us to “meet [him] at the finish line”, to which he’ll “just float in time”. At once, he expresses his hope for the future and that it’s okay to sometimes let go and just wait and see how you get there, dispelling his fears of being “left behind”, which those of us who have dealt with depression and anxiety about the future know all too well.
He confidently asserts: “I’m done trying to conform / I reached my final form / and I pray the lord have mercy on / whoever takes me on”. The song, which is the album’s most successful attempt at reinvention, shows off Shamir’s inspiration from post-punk music. The drums, in particular, give off eighties vibes a la The Cure, emotionalising the song even more and giving it its momentum.
Revelations is a consolidation of Shamir’s image to himself and the industry. It’s also a big f-you to the inauthentic people in his artistic and personal life. In Straight Boy, he deals with the hypocrisy of straight boys and their need to be viewed a certain way, claiming they are “clinging to a false sense of pride”. “Can someone tell me why / I always seem to let these straight boys ruin my life” shows Shamir trying to shed the negative influences in his life by exposing them.
While representing a dramatic change in image and direction, Revelations seems a little clumsy. Though the sound is intentionally lo-fi and foundational, this concept would have worked a lot better if the songs had a better sense of cohesiveness and the album as a whole showed stronger development. Lyrically, the rawness translates much better, which definitely saves the album.
Check it out on Spotify: