Shamir Bailey is a pop star with a lot on his mind. “I was gonna quit music this weekend,” he writes on Soundcloud. “From day 1 it was clear i was an accidental pop star… the wear of staying polished with how im presented and how my music was presented took a huge toll on me mentally.”
Three years after the release of his debut album and his breakout single, the ultra-polished ‘On The Regular’, we find Shamir in a very different place. Now going it alone after being dropped from XL, second album Hope is very much a homemade, back to basics affair, a remedy to the pristine production of his debut and a return to something more honest, authentic even. On his Soundcloud page, Shamir writes that he grew tired of music being appreciated for its production quality rather than the art itself. As a result, on Hope, Shamir does away with sheen and polish in favour of stripped back, lo-fi jams. Made over the course of a weekend with the aid of a 4 track recorder, Hope is definitely everything Ratchet was not.
Opening with an imposing, doom-heralding racket of drums and electric guitar, it’s clear from the off that we’re in for something grittier here, something rough around the edges. Shamir wails over a scuzz of feedback, his boundless vocal range, once something angelic and pure, now sounding almost demonic on the title track. But what follows is something lighter, the gentle lilt of ‘What Else’ ushering in a brighter, less apocalyptic sound, Shamir sounding at ease before the dark edge of the electric guitars returns for ‘Ignore Everything’.
On Hope, Shamir embraces imperfection. At times, the messiness of the album can feel distracting, until you remember that the messiness is part of the attraction itself. This is also an album that often feels disjointed, united by its lo-fi sound but interrupted by its frequent mood changes, Shamir at times despairing, at others almost taking the piss, as in the wry ‘I Fucking Hate You’. Rather than disorient or confuse however, these switches in tone form something coherent, the album somehow making more sense for its refusal to stick to one mood or feeling throughout.
“Im not gonna lie, this album is hard to listen to,” Shamir writes on Soundcloud, aware that Hope is likely to polarise fans accustomed to a cleaner, less jagged sound. But if Shamir’s Soundcloud preface serves as a sort of mini-manifesto, there’s no doubt that he has achieved what he set out to do. Hope sounds urgent and fraught, unplanned and wild, almost feral at points. By doing away with everything that we have come to expect from modern pop albums, Shamir has managed to create something that feels rebellious and effortless, an authentic expression of love, loneliness and anger with all of the messy bits left intact.