- The Magazine
Shamir couldn’t have seen a pandemic coming during the months of work that went into his latest record, but you would almost think he did. As early releases, surprise releases, demos and mixtapes increasingly become the norm, Shamir seems poised to have a moment. The Vegas-born artist, whose 2018 album Resolution also dropped without warning, is no stranger to this way of doing things.
Having long ago departed the electropop shimmer of his major label debut and embraced a fuzzy, grungy, DIY sound that sounds — in the best possible ways — like it was put together in an apartment, the release of the nine-track Cataclysm (★★★★☆) seems to have put him one step ahead of the curve. Maybe it was a happy coincidence, or maybe Shamir was just the right artist with the right project at the right time. Either way, Cataclysm is an intimate and oddly comforting collection of lo-fi songs that sound perfectly made for the moment.
In the Bandcamp blurb for Cataclysm, Shamir leans heavily on the metaphor of a butterfly as a stand-in for death and rebirth. “Constant regeneration of the soul is incredibly painful,” he writes, “but transformation is equally beautiful.” In keeping with a style and a persona that have always been difficult to pin down, Shamir’s sound is slippery and often defies neat categorization. Constantly eager to move onto new forms and sounds, “transformational” is one of the few descriptors that can be applied to him with the knowledge that it will stick.
Cataclysm does keep some of the grungy aesthetic of his previous effort, Be the Yee, Here Comes the Haw, as well as the distortion and heavy post-punk leanings. Although it was far from a country album, Shamir did make nods towards the title with the odd acoustic twang and brief detour into folky simplicity. On this album, he has traded up to dense, rich, dissonant riffs and reverb that layer together with his distinct countertenor in an oddly appealing way.
As evidenced in his previous work, the gritty lo-fi instrumentals on the one hand and his soaring vocals on the other may seem like an odd pairing at first, but together they create a uniquely otherworldly mood. The album opener “Hell” blends warm static with echoing vocals to a haunting effect, a mood he revisits later on the album with the stark, apocalyptic “Scream” and the droning, low-key “Mirror For Your Third Eye.”
Despite the dark bent his work often takes, what makes Shamir fun to listen to is how much fun he is clearly having with his songwriting. More upbeat tracks like “All The Places That Nobody Wants To Be” lighten the otherwise heavy mood of the album. His sense of humor is on display throughout Cataclysm, perhaps nowhere more so than on “Delusional.” It opens with the tragicomic lyric, “I cry at restaurants, but not because I dine alone,” introducing a lighthearted punk-ish track on which he rattles off a list of fears and insecurities with an exaggerated strain in his voice. Shamir later closes out the album on a lighthearted note, with “They Must Go” the closest to pop he comes this time around, is shot through with a positive vibe that makes it sound almost like a breath out after such a musically and thematically dense album.
Midway through, Shamir takes a step back with “Wind,” an acoustic guitar track that is undeniably the outlier of the album. While he is never shy or coy about baring his soul, allowing his vocals to rise to the forefront makes the track an especially plaintive confessional. With soft vocals over equally gentle instrumentals, it almost sounds like it might have been more at home on another album. Aside from his unmistakable voice, its meditative lyrics tie this one to the rest of the album. “Sometimes confinement brings you peace,” he sings at one point, “Other times it makes you crazy.”
Shamir closes the album’s blurb with a haunting and ambiguous statement: “I’ve always wanted to soundtrack the end because I’ve seen it so many times.” His accidentally perfectly timed soundtrack for a crisis and collapse is a hopeful reminder that endings, as bleak and painful as they might be, are moments of transformation. We may not know what awaits us on the other side, but there is beauty in the process itself, if we know where to listen for it.
Cataclysm is available now on Bandcamp and all streaming services.
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