(Self Released *** 1/2)
Shamir has now put out three full-length albums in less than a year. It started with Hope, which the South Philadelphia songwriter recorded and released in one weekend in May 2017, and continued with Revelations, which he let loose in November. And now the 23-year-old former electro-pop star's evolution into a guitar-playing indie rock artist — which is what he actually was in the first place, he'll tell you, before he was misrepresented on his 2015 debut album, Ratchet — reaches some sort of resolution with Resolution. Shamir surprise-released the album this month exclusively on the online music site Bandcamp, and also put out the worthwhile Room, a two-song, country-tinged released that's packaged separately and available on all the streaming services. What's impressive about Shamir's creative burst is not only its quantity but the quality. Resolution is a quite polished product as DIY projects go while retaining a sense of rugged urgency and self-assured confidence. That's true whether he's looking outward on the sharply etched story song about police killings "I Can't Breathe," or reflective on the equal parts grungy-and-catchy refusal-to-be-defeated "Dead Inside." — Dan DeLuca
By the Way, I Forgive You
The title of Brandi Carlile's new album is a line that recurs throughout the opening track, "Every Time I Hear That Song." It's addressed to an ex-lover, and it contains sadness and regret and tenderness, but also a touch of getting-the-last-laugh vindication. In other words, it's full-blooded, emotionally nuanced, and true to life, and it sets the tone for the rest of this gripping set.
"Whatever You Do" is a stark portrait of someone caught between devotion and independence — "I love you whatever you do, but I've got a life to live too" — while "The Mother" is an unabashed celebration of renewal and redemption brought on by motherhood. "Sugartooth" is a wrenching portrayal of an addict, with a strong strain of empathy that also runs through "The Joke" and maybe "Fulton County Jane Doe." A chilling ambiguity underpins the latter — for all the sweet understanding of "Fulton County Jane" expressed by the singer, could she actually be dead, and did the singer kill her?
Carlile has worked with big-name producers before in T Bone Burnett and Rick Rubin, and here she teams with one of Nashville's hottest right now, Dave Cobb, as well as Shooter Jennings. The music incorporates country, folk, rock, and pop, and even when strings are employed, as they often are, the arrangements remain terse and spare, sharpening the focus on Carlile and her songs.
"I don't always choose to stay on the sunny side," Carlile warns on "Harder to Forgive." That's true, but it's her ability to convey so many shades of emotion that makes her work here so powerful. — Nick Cristiano
Lil Boat 2
(Quality Control/Motown/Capitol **½)
When Atlanta's Lil Yachty came on the scene as the Instagram prince of bubblegum trap rap, his music was sweet, silly, and tinny. His mumbled fuzzy rhymes found focus (when focus was to be found; song structure and convergence aren't his thing) in X-Men, Xbox, cotton candy, and "Peek a Boo." For all this warm, dippy weirdness – and truly catchy tunes with an irresistibly slippery flow – Yachty won platinum-plated status and a brand ambassadorship for youthful effusion and good guy-ishness.