The Washington Post

With clarion vocals, Shamir brings the heat underneath cool stage lights

- BY TETA ALIM

Philadelph­ia-based singersong­writer Shamir donned horns and hoofs, evoking the goat-headed occult figure Baphomet, on the cover of his latest album, “Heterosexu­ality.”

He found peace in embracing the infernal — perceived or otherwise — the 27-year-old told a captivated crowd Friday night at Songbyrd. “I’m an actual demon,” he said, grinning.

Shamir began thinking of the monstrous imagery in 2020 amid a late-night Twitter stroll, he said in an interview earlier this year: “It really is like a metaphor for how I feel a lot of the times when I’m just navigating the world. A lot of times I feel like because of how I look and because of my queerness and because of a lot of other things, people look at me like I’m subhuman, like an animal in a zoo.”

Art has contended with the inhuman other for centuries, including Medusa and the Babadook.

But more interpreta­tions are exploring monstrousn­ess as the site of exile and marginaliz­ation — not a specter to be feared, but a space to challenge norms upheld by violent structures.

“Heterosexu­ality” reflects the frustratio­n and constricti­ng darkness of just existing in a racist, cis-hetero-patriarcha­l world that makes survival grim. Shamir’s artistry, centering his incandesce­nt vocals that brandish pointed lyrics, and production from fellow Philly-based musician Hollow Comet (Isaac Eiger) keep the exploratio­n focused and cathartic.

Shamir’s clarion voice has guided the Las Vegas-raised experiment­al musician through many transforma­tions since 2014. His debut dance single, “On the Regular,” garnered critical attention, and his 2015 debut album geared him toward an electro-pop sonic path. But Shamir didn’t want to be restricted to one sound. His label, XL Recordings, then dropped him in 2017, opening him to self-released lo-fi, shoegaze and post-punk albums.

His seventh album — a self-titled released in 2020, created in a studio under social-distancing protocols — infuses his guitarheav­y melodies with country storytelli­ng and pop playfulnes­s, a crystalliz­ation of vision that has bled into his latest album.

Onstage, Shamir glowed as he set his distinct counterten­or voice ablaze against the cool stage lights. Stripped of its looming synths, “Cisgender” took a more brooding, electrifie­d tone in a swirl of hammering drums, blistering guitar and intrepid bass. Shamir’s voice soared above the embers, glinting in the light.

For the closing song, “Nuclear,” Shamir stripped down to a wistful guitar and bare tambourine rhythms, his voice evoking wrinkled taffeta as he offered a more gossamer live rendition compared with the jaunty studio version. It was time to shake off the day and rest.

As Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” notes: “To be a monster is to be a hybrid signal, a lighthouse: both shelter and warning at once.”

 ?? MARCUS MADDOX ?? Singer-songwriter Shamir performed at D.C.’S Songbyrd on Friday. His latest album, “Heterosexu­ality,” was released earlier this year.
MARCUS MADDOX Singer-songwriter Shamir performed at D.C.’S Songbyrd on Friday. His latest album, “Heterosexu­ality,” was released earlier this year.

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