Artist development can really creep up on the casual listener, much like failing to notice that someone you see every day is getting gradually older. Case in point: gone is the Shamir who popped up several years ago with ad-ready tunes like On The Regular, and in his place is a much more abrasive, confrontational artist who places more emphasis on identity. This multidisciplinary indie rock artist’s androgynous countertenor is still in full effect, but now when those stratospheric highs are reached it is a display of emotional intensity rather than camp.
Cisgender is a statement of intent, as a slow thudding beat accompanies the defiant hook (“I’m not cisgender / I’m not binary trans / I don’t wanna be a girl / I don’t wanna be a man”). The bass shudders and rasps, the guitars squall, the hi-hats chop into the mix like the blades of a helicopter – Shamir is presenting himself as the modern-day Prince, and the effect is striking. Elsewhere on Heterosexuality, Father shows more overt vulnerability over a building arrangement of acoustic guitar and syncopated kickdrums, while Marriage pleases with its irresistible groove and ambiguous message regarding self-acceptance.
Some of the album, however, feels a little confused. Abomination has interesting production, but is let down by a vocal performance with neither the wit or intensity required, and the novelty of Nuclear blending lounge instrumentation with abject lyrics wears off pretty quickly. Reproductive sets a better example, a generous slice of vintage alt-rock which at times strips its arrangement back to Steve Albini levels of sparseness.
Heterosexuality is in many ways bold, both stylistically and in terms of message, but what goes missing in its weaker moments is akin to the ghost in the machine: that compositional spark which would elevate the record beyond the sum of its parts.