Since we were first introduced to 20 year-old Las Vegas-born Shamir through the disco-tinged If It Wasn't True a few things have changed. He signed to XL Records (the home of Vampire Weekend, Adele and other alternative superstars), he's revealed himself through a number of sassy videos and he's modernised his sound. On his Northtown EP, Shamir referenced '70s disco and soul but on Ratchet he sounds like he's borrowed from the '80s on the way to creating a sound that is distinctively 2015. It's toy-like, attitude-filled and at its heart, a pop record.
Shamir's high-pitched and instantly intriguing vocal captured people's attention at first but it was his boundless charisma on first single On The Regular, that really introduced us to the singer. Ratchet takes much the same path as On The Regular as its filled with vivacious, high-energy tracks with more than a few cowbells here and there. It feels like cheap fun, a record that would become too much on repeat listens but it's surprisingly not. Ratchet proves you can never have too much of a good thing and treads a very thin line between sweet and savoury.
Before he begins the party, Shamir introduces the record with Vegas, one of the slower tracks on the album. It plods along at a dusty pace, delivering a chorus that sinks in rather than smacks you in the face. It's an unpredictable entrance to what is essentially a party record, but truly feels as if we're travelling into Vegas with no idea of just how much frivolity is set to ensue.
Track two is when things really start to amp up. "Crazy nights filled with lust," Shamir snarls on Make A Scene before a siren-like synth gives us the first indication that proceedings are unravelling. It's the type of theme that Kesha, Pitbull and David Guetta songs thrive off but it's far more palatable than that. Shamir's voice is virtually untouched and the instrumental sounds uncluttered.
On The Regular and Call It Off, the two previously released tracks, are undoubtedly among the records strongest moments and that's because they excel in the same kind of uncluttered fun. Without descending into EDM territory or whistle and brass-laden RnB he manages to create hair-down pop that's an audible depiction of the artist himself.
Herein lies where Shamir starts to show some restraint. After cracking the party-popper he reigns it in on Demon, one of the record's more demure moments. It shows a darker side to the singer that we only see a handful of times on the record. Backed by twinkling keys, Shamir, voice almost cracking sings, "If I'm a demon baby you're the beast the made me." This more introspective songwriting only appears once more on the record during the soaring ballad Darker. If Demon is Shamir showing the edges of his vocal, then Darker is showing its endless height. He belts above a sweeping instrumental that sounds like a helicopter is flying through. "It doesn't get darker unless you want it to," he sings with the same kind of conviction as one of the '90s ballad-divas.
Slinky defines many of the songs of the second-half of the record. In For The Kill sounds as if he's strutting into a party with its blazen horns. Meanwhile, Youth creeps along, peaking in a layered chorus that has a subtle allure. For one of the only songs on the record that doesn't flood personality, it's surprisingly charming with its falsetto-bearing vocal. These two are among the LP's greatest triumphs and show that he can do more than just sass and 'tude.
Album closer Head In The Clouds sounds as if it was born on the preset functions of a Casio keyboard but it's a vertigo-inducing party tune that brings Ratchet to a screaming close. If you're going to finish an LP like this you should make sure it entices listeners to go back to track one. If you do that, prepare to be thrown from the clouds back down to the dust of Vegas, but that rise back to giddying heights is well-worth it.
This is a record that you can really dig into and pull apart, each time discovering more of Shamir's eclectic personality, but it's one that can also simply be taken for face-value. It's immediate enough to please those listeners but it's also got enough substance to defend itself against critics who complain about the former. It's not pretending to be anything else than what it is. It's an LP made by a 20 year-old who's obviously dealt with growing pains but also wants to enjoy his pure-faced years. At many times the dizzying synths make it feel as if Ratchet is one big twirling drink, but at least it's one helluva cocktail.
Ratchet is out in Australia on 15 May and you better believe that we'll hail from the rooftops when it's available.