Shamir arrived three years ago, fully formed, highly evolved — a queer, confident and stylish Las Vegas teenager playing dance-pop with punk spirit, an avatar for a progressive era. But those days are gone.
“I just went with the flow,” the singer and songwriter, 22, said last month on a damp bench in Bryant Park, recalling his passive response to the success and stress that came with “Ratchet,” his 2015 debut album. “I’m a multifaceted person and I started to feel like I was playing a character of myself,” he continued, his high-pitched voice a bit shaky, as if he were telling secrets.
“Revelations,” the raw new Shamir album due Nov. 3, is a drastic course correction. Bucking industry expectations, Shamir recorded the lo-fi, guitar-based songs on a four-track, confronting years of tribulations entirely alone, with none of that “Ratchet” sheen. “A lot of people think I’m crazy,” he said. “I guess I kind of am. But I also know what’s best for me, and that’s more important than fame and money.”
There had been major-label interest in his second album, and with it, studio sessions with big-name pop producers, he said. But Shamir hoped to move away from the carefree electronic disco revivalism that had become his signature, incorporating more of his personal, D.I.Y. rock tastes.
The compromise left no one fully happy, and although he had a multi-album deal with XL Recordings (Adele, Vampire Weekend), Shamir was dropped for not meeting creative expectations. The reset was freeing — “I don’t have a label, anymore, so who do I have to answer to?” — but terrifying.
Shamir considered quitting music before a marathon weekend recording session in his bedroom yielded “Hope,” a proudly messy 10-song project he released free on SoundCloud in April. “I wanted to do something reckless because I’d played by the rules and nothing worked out,” he said.
But after the ad hoc release, Shamir isolated himself further — he later split with his management team — and again contemplated ending his career. Amid the uncertainty, he wasn’t sleeping and was self-medicating with marijuana; less than two weeks after posting “Hope” online, Shamir sustained a psychotic episode and spent five days in a psychiatric hospital, where he it was determined he had bipolar disorder.
Back home in Las Vegas to recover and rebuild, Shamir wrote and recorded most of “Revelations” in two weeks. “It just flowed out,” he said, like “pages of my diary.” But it’s not all dour. Weighty subjects sound playful on songs like “90s Kids” and “Straight Boy” (“Someone tell me why/I always seem to let these/straight boys run my life”).
Even Shamir’s most harrowing moments are mined for optimism. “Float” is “about a hallucination that I remember from my psychosis — the only one that was beautiful,” he said. “I envisioned heaven for myself — some kind of afterlife — and it looked something like this,” he went on, motioning to the lush park. “It was just a bunch of people that I love, and I was running to them.”
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