#38. Shamir: Ratchet
Androgynous is a word that gets tossed around often when critics write about Shamir Bailey’s resonant, gender-bending countertenor voice. It’s a voice that’s totally at home amidst the metallic disco-ball sheen of Ratchet’s electronic beats. The album’s romping flair belongs in every neon-lit urban nightclub across the country, from Manhattan to Shamir’s hometown of Vegas. Its sound is so beat-driven and gender-amorphous that it feels destined to become the soundtrack to drag performances everywhere.
Shamir crafts buoyant dance records in the lineage of Grace Jones, which sound almost too focused for a debut album. Ratchet is Nightclubbing for the social media generation. It leaves out the reggae bounce of Jones’ classic, however, instead double dipping in a second shiny coat of 21st century post-disco.
There’s something here for fans of a wide variety of dance music, from the funky chromatic licks and wawa chords of “Head In The Clouds” to the straight-faced house synths of “Hot Mess.” Records like “Make A Scene” and “On The Regular” even showcase cheeky rap verses that ooze confidence over kick drum pulses. Lead single “Call It Off” is a glittery confluence of all of these ingredients, with a baseline that’s somehow simultaneously jittery yet coolly metronomic.
Even the tracks that don’t feel like dance songs are perfect for slow dancing. “Demon” dims the lights of Ratchet’s up-tempo dance party and allows harmony to dictate the direction of the melody more than any other song on the album. The result is a shimmering ballad about a “modern day Bonnie and Clyde,” and one of the best songs Shamir has written. And then of course there’s double-take-inducing bonus track “KC,” which strips away all the drum beats and synth riffs and leaves the vocals with almost nothing but a guitar as accompaniment. It feels like the song that plays through the speakers after the party is over and the only things left on the dance floor are some streamers and empty solo cups. It’s a surprisingly poignant ending to one hell of a dance party.