First things first; Ratchet contains what will undoubtedly be one of the best but also most overlooked pop gems of the year. Album closer ‘Head In The Clouds’ is an effervescent banger that should be lighting up your local dancefloor, but only if the DJ happens to be particularly hip. In October of last year, Shamir released ‘On The Regular’ and quickly caught the attention of every music blogger out there, becoming the biggest buzz-worthy single since Azealia Banks dropped ‘212’. That comparison isn’t made lightly either, as he is mostly definitely to dance-pop what Banks is to hip-hop; a vital, alternative shot-in-the-arm.
Despite being only 20 years old, Shamir has tapped into a vein of honesty with his songs, made all the more interesting by that voice, one that’ll bring to mind the likes of Daley or, perhaps more obviously but less accurately, Prince. The album kicks off with the menacingly seductive ‘Vegas’, which turns out not to be just a love-letter to his home town, but also a warning note of the city’s darker aspects. This is followed up by ‘Make A Scene’, the kind of song that Scissor Sisters would usually get chart-attention for, with Shamir telling his contemporaries to stop trying so hard to look cool and just have a good time.
‘On The Regular’ is present, correct and as quotable as ever (“I’m not a free sample, don’t try me!”) and joined by the equally painfully hip likes of ‘Hot Mess’ (“Damn, youse a hard bitch!”) and ‘Call It Off’ (“Just can’t make a thot a wife / No more basic, ratchet guys”), the likes of which you’d easily imagine RuPaul sassily finger-snapping her way through.
It’s when Shamir slows things down that the record begins to fray at the edges, as his raspy voice isn’t entirely suited to the lighter notes, that rasp evaporating into a barely there exhalation that can sometimes grate. The likes of the mid-tempo ‘Demon’ or the album’s one true ballad, the Carly Simon-esque ‘Darker’, both go to prove that Shamir is no… well, Carly Simon. Thankfully, the production by Nick Sylvester helps paper over some of those vocal cracks, bringing to mind the constantly morphing soundscapes of Hot Chip or Basement Jaxx in their prime. And before you know it, we’re back to ‘Head In The Clouds’, Ratchet has zipped by indescribably quickly….and you’ve already hit the repeat button.