August LGBTQ music: Shamir and Jaboukie

Jaboukie is known for his work in comedy — and his music builds off his experience in that area.
Jaboukie is known for his work in comedy — and his music builds off his experience in that area.
Tiffany Champion and Vivian Shih

This month, Gay City News listens to the latest albums by queer, non-binary rock musician Shamir and queer rapper/singer Jaboukie.

Shamir | “Homo Anxietatem” | Kill Rock Stars | Aug. 18

From the outside, Shamir’s 2015 debut “Ratchet” was an exciting house music-inspired album, but the singer says they were pushed in that direction by their label. They were blocked from having any input into the production, then dropped when stardom didn’t immediately loom. Soon after, they released “Hope,” a home-recorded lo-fi indie rock album recorded during a moment of crisis. They’ve worked steadily outside the spotlight since then. Shamir approaches pop and rock strictly on their own terms; their 2022 album “Heterosexuality” was fiercely political, with lines like “F**k capitalism and the exploitation/Keep these politicians on their toes.”

Whatever style Shamir has performed, their falsetto remains constant. They’re a very skillful singer. “Homo Anxietatem” moves towards slick pop rock. “The Beginning” begs for use as the theme song for a revival of a ‘90s sitcom from that decade. The drums snap and the guitars are buffed to a fine polish, although “Words” strips everything down to a hush and “The Devil Said The Blues Is All I Know,” true to its title, heads into blues.

Even so, the lyrics complicate matters. The album contrasts cheerful melodies with an extended depiction of a breakup. “Overnight Sweater” envisions Shamir zoning out in front of the TV to ignore their ex: “I listen through the walls to the sound of your pleading calls/I can barely hear my Peacock subscription.” As cheerful as “The Beginning” sounds, it’s a breakup song: “We were so caught up with the beginning that we forgot the ending.” The upbeat melody and arrangement attempts to rise above the heartbreak of the moment.

 Shamir grasps at politics much more subtly than they did on “Heterosexuality”: “Without You” takes place against a backdrop of “the overbearing heat…all the deserts getting covered in snowfall.” The gloss of “Homo Anxietatem” just makes the stress referenced in its title more palatable. “Calloused” looks back at their early experiences with the music industry: “the devil had plans for me/the money, the greed, the worldly things.” “Obsession” is more direct, tempering Shamir’s desire for stardom with the pain that led them to conclude “it’s much better just to be a loser.” Having been burned by the music industry once, Shamir reaches tentatively for a larger audience, but “Homo Anxietatem” maintains a firm grip on their sound.

Jaboukie | “All Who Can’t Hear Must Feel” | Interscope | Aug. 25th 

Jaboukie’s music builds off his experience in comedy. Writing and performing songs began as a hobby while he built an impressive list of credentials, including a stint as the “young person” correspondent on “The Daily Show.” Now that he’s signed to a major label, music isn’t a way to occupy his spare time anymore. Still, he’s retained control of it, playing almost all the instruments on his debut album “All Who Can’t Hear Must Feel.”

Jaboukie’s videos are a great entrance point to his album. Their sensibility is fake analog, laden with VHS icons, pixels and snow breaking up the image. “BBC” is modest in scale, but thanks to its use of such effects, varied enough that you might not realize jaboukie is the only person who appears in it. For “not_me_tho,” he set up a small treadmill in several places around New York, including the subway and the statue of a bull on Wall Street and filmed himself running on it, even in high heels. The video shoot itself caught the eye of pedestrians. While designed to go viral, it’s genuinely funny and sly, with jaboukie grinning throughout. Both videos exude a casual androgyny.

Jaboukie feels free to work within any genre. While that can lead to watered-down mush that gathers the safest versions of its influences, “All Who Can’t Hear Must Feel” stakes a claim for Black queer artists to perform styles ranging from drill music to bedroom pop to shoegaze without being tied down to any of them. His version of hip-hop will stake your stomach. “solid states 140bpm” lets sliding 808s ring out into a cavern of reverb and digital delay. The bass and drums throb without the tininess of recent trap music.

As a singer, jaboukie feels less confident, always holding his voice back. He mumbles his way through “feel the same.” “All Who Can’t Hear Must Feel” builds on jaboukie’s strengths: “BBC” is first-rate hip-house, with appropriately horny lyrics. None of the rest of the album matches its level of outreach, but given a feeling of modest stakes, it accomplishes everything it sets out to.