In early LCD Soundsystem singles, the kids were not alright. They annoyed James Murphy with their inability to dance, hook up, or fall in love properly. All they could do was borrow nostalgia and send out irksome mailers, inviting him to parties he thought were lame. LCD’s whole schtick centered on the viewpoint of an old guy who thought he knew better, who’d heard all the great records when doing so required real effort and was forced to interpret their lessons for the masses since none of these lousy kids could be trusted. It’d be interesting to hear his reaction now to something like Ratchet. The debut album from 20-year-old Las Vegan Shamir Bailey grows like a flower from creative soil he tilled a decade ago. “They say I am a big party machine!,” Shamir tells us, quite plausibly. Murphy’s side-eye might be unavoidable, but “the saddest night out in the U.S.A.” this is not.
Shamir’s audible, irrepressible youth is Ratchet’s best quality. It’s the thing that keeps the record’s retro aspects from ever feeling stagnant, or even conspicuously borrowed. He’s only about a year and a half removed from the first positive notices for “If it Wasn’t True,” his first single on Brooklyn’s Godmode label. To hear him now, already lamenting his advanced age is pretty funny. He cops an old-soul wisdom here and there, giving friends and fans relationship advice. But it’s a little goofy when something like, “Just can’t make a thot a wife, no more basic ratchet guys. Listen up I’m saving you from all the hell that you’ll go through!” is about as sage as it gets. Singles like “Make a Scene” and “On the Regular” are much better for being completely unembarrassed by their own silliness. In moments of giddy glee, Shamir practically bounces on the beat. “Hi hi, howdy howdy, hi hi!”
The sound of Ratchet is attributable in part to producer Nick Sylvester. The ex-music writer (Pitchfork, Village Voice), current music producer (Deerhoof’s La Isla Bonita) and label head (Godmode), met Shamir because of his teenage enthusiasm for the local noise-rock band Yvette. Godmode flew him out to record, and released his first EP. Sylvester stayed on as manager, producer, and sometimes band member as he’s moved on to the big-deal trans-atlantic indie imprint XL (home to MIA, Vampire Weekend, and FKA Twigs). Embedded horns are taken from disco, piano rolls from house music, frantic raygun breakdowns from acid–house—this is the stuff of a real cross-genre 12” aficionado. Shamir imposes a sense of cohesion just due to personal charisma alone. His remarkable voice will likely be a main point of focus, its high register seeming sightly fantastical. It flutters somewhere closer to feminine than masculine, but calls in question the urge to measure gender so precisely. The tone that naturally leaves his lips is one that naturally suits all sorts of dance music. Why get hung up on it at all?