Year of Release: 2015
20-year-old Las Vegas native Shamir Bailey is an androgynous mix of post-90s spunk and millennial angst, and has ceremoniously thrown down one of the most vibrant debuts of the year. Mixing R & B, wonky pop, disco, house, and synth-laden dance beats, Ratchet is the sound of an artist reaching toward pop bliss without even realizing their own limitations. Everything from Grace Jones, Prince, and Michael Jackson gets thrown into the auditory pot, but there are very few comparisons when it comes to Shamir's vocals; a daft combination of high-pitched falsetto and lower-register crooning. It's one of the most welcome off-beat voices to come down the pipeline in awhile, backed by a flurry of strong songwriting and inventively minimalistic production. For every transcendent party dance tune, ala "Make a Scene" and the brilliantly catchy "On the Regular", there's also darkly poetic ballads like "Demon", which reveals that Shamir can put away the quirk and also deliver heartfelt lyrics. Though some will be confused by Shamir's undefinable gender/pan-sexual identity, it's clear that this point doesn't really matter since there doesn't seem to be any interest in waving a post-gender/ "queer music" flag. Instead, Ratchet is something that successfully avoids easy labels while still being the kind of colorful jam record to ease us through the doldrums of summer.