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Baker's Dozen

Bon Appétit: James Acaster's Favourite Albums
Emma Garland , February 9th, 2022 10:36

From the tiny emo scene of noughties Kettering to a love of underground hip-hop and the undying appeal of a cult classic, comedian James Acaster takes Emma Garland through the albums that have defined his life


Shamir – Hope

Shamir is an artist I find fascinating, and who I actually got to know a bit in recent years. They’re a lovely person. I discovered this around the same time as I was doing all the 2016 stuff and trying to listen to as much new music as possible. I filmed something for a sitcom – in 2016, actually – where they used ‘On The Regular’ in a scene set in a nightclub. We had to film it over and over again so I had to hear the song over and over again, and I hadn’t heard it before, and I was like ‘this is a perfect dance song’. I got really obsessed with it. Anytime I did any DJing I would play that song, and even when no one in the room knew what it was they would all dance.

So I was DJing in Edinburgh once and someone from The Skinny was there, and she asked if I’d heard this new thing Shamir had done, where basically they pissed off their record label by recording something on their own at home over a weekend and releasing it. Sometimes, you hear about an album and before you’ve even heard it you’re like, ‘I’m going to love this’. It's not always the case. Sometimes you find it and you’re like, ‘that's not what I imagined in my head when that person explained that to me, and how disappointing’. But with this, I couldn’t wait to get home and find this album. I remember crossing my fingers listening to it in my room in my house in Edinburgh, and it was exactly what I wanted it to be. I loved their voice on the pop stuff so I wanted to hear that range over really DIY punk and rock songs – and it’s exactly that. They’re still singing in that really distinctive voice they’ve got, but they’re showing all the other stuff they listen to and love, like rock and country music and punk.

I loved how lo-fi it was. It sounds like someone’s recorded a live album almost. We’ve talked a bit about production so far, and getting excited by really traditionally good production, but this was the first album where I was like, ‘oh yeah, I don't really care about that. I mainly care that the production suits the project. And actually, off the back of this, I started seeking out stuff that was recorded in a primitive and basic way. There was something really infectious about the fact that it was so rough around the edges, more so than other lo-fi stuff I’d heard. When I was little, I used to have a little tape recorder that I’d use to record drums when I was practising, and this sounded like that. Like he just put a tape player in the corner and recorded it live.

I found that so exciting, plus the fact that they’d just gone, ‘fuck you I’m going to do want to do what I want’. I thought it was so cool that someone who was basically on the verge of having this huge pop career if they wanted – they had this hit single and the album had done well, they could have gone, ’Let’s write 10 more ‘On The Regular’s and become a big star’. But instead they broke free of all that and did an album that was so different.

But I wouldn't love it as much as I do if the songs weren’t catchy. I love the immediate rhythm of the drums on the opening track, and they were able to capture the overall mood of the album in every single song. It’s not something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, or the individual parts are greater than the whole – everything feels special. It very quickly became one of my favourite albums ever, but recommending that to people was a nightmare because they’re all like ‘I’m not going on Soundcloud to download an album’. I was really gutted this didn’t come out in 2016 because I wanted to include it in the book and on the podcast.