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Protest Song Of The Week: ‘I Can’t Breathe’ By Shamir

Shamir’s music has not always been explicitly political, but it has surely always been inspiringly rebellious.

That spirit runs through the celebratory fuck-the-haters dance-funk of his debut “Rachet,” as well as his subsequent abandonment of industry pressures when he turned towards the historically white-straight-male dominated world of raw indie rock instead.

Free from the limitations of album cycles and marketing rollouts, the Philly-via-Vegas songwriter has released three full-length records since 2017. His most recent, “Resolutions,” is the best of them all—a surprise companion to the “Room” 7-inch released to same day.

“Resolutions” opener “I Can’t Breathe” starts the eight-song collection with some of his most gripping lyricism, perhaps the most directly topical Shamir song to date.

It begins with a somber, distorted finger-picked riff, before Shamir uses the song’s verses to tell the stories of two tragic police killings with heart-wrenching potency. He recalls details similar to the murder of Eric Garner and the murder of Tamir Rice.

In the first verse, Shamir sings about a man named Gary “selling loosies by the liquor store / didn’t really mean no harm / but he was black and stood 6 foot 7 / so the owner sound the alarm.” His resonant falsetto sits atop pings of distorted guitar noise that underpins his every word: “When heard the sirens he started to run / and bullets was all he saw.”

The second verse chronicles the story of a child named Bobby who went to the park to play with a plastic toy gun: “A neighbor got scared and called for help / with nothing but fear pulsing through / but failed to mention that he was all alone / so there’s not much he can do.”

“I Can’t Breathe” is utterly crushing throughout, especially on the chorus, which repeats twice, as Shamir sings over huge echoing drums from the perspective of Gary. He repeats Garner’s last words: “I can’t breathe / somebody help me please / I see the light / I think I’m gonna die.”

It is among the year’s most powerful rock songs. Listen below via Bandcamp.

Photo via the Movement for Black Lives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mvmt4bl/photos/a.1441657412796399.1073741828.1439829396312534/1726016084360529/?type=3&theater
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Photo By Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States (Michael Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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Liz Pelly

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