Sadly, it has to be said that 2019 has not gotten off to a flying start for me in terms of brilliant new releases; there are a couple of things I’ve enjoyed, but I haven’t yet listened to them enough to venture a fully formed opinion. So instead I’ve decided to go back to Shy Boys second album from last summer, which I got for Christmas and have been playing ever since.
Shy Boys’ stock in trade is a combination of nostalgic power pop and gentle psychedelia, creating a sound that’s both melodic and endearingly delicate. Much of their appeal comes from their use of sophisticated harmonies; here, there are genuine comparisons to The Beach Boys to be made, with the bands’ central trio, brothers Collin and Kyle Rauch and Konor Erving, all chipping in on the multilayered arrangements. This gives many of the songs an added dimension; the sudden rush of their voices as they move into the chorus of “Take The Doggie” makes it a standout moment, and the same can be said of the angelic opening to “Evil Sin’. You can hear the family connection in the vocal blend, but more importantly, there’s a strong feeling of likeminded friends relishing the joy of making music that comes through. Shy Boys lack the assuredness of the Wilson family, and there are occasional wobbles and the odd bum note along the way, but this just adds an unfussy, naive charm to the material and one warms to them all the more for it.
While the lyrics can often be dark, they tend to be tempered with sweetness throughout. There’s a kindly manner on display which comes over at times as quirky (for instance, catchy single “Take The Doggie” details a plan to abduct a pet from their cruel owner), but also often reveals the bruises sustained from living in an unfair world. On “Evil Sin”, Collin Rauch sounds like a small boy learning hard lessons for the first time as he sings a tale of betrayal over money, with his childlike delivery given emphasis by the delicate, harpsichord led whimsy of the music. This sense of boyishness also shows itself in other ways; opener “Miracle Gro” is a mischievous accapella ode to growing dope in the back garden, with its ‘pass the mic’ lead vocal adding to the sense of fun and friendship, alongside the lyrical forbidden pleasures. Elsewhere, we get a sense of Raush as a nice guy struggling to deal with the worst of adult life, though his easy good nature seems to help him get by. “Basement” sees him having to move back into his childhood home, the strain showing through the deceptive tunefulness as he sings “If you wanna know the truth of it, it’s looking grim…Got a wife and a dog and I’m living in my mom’s basement” over the jaunty acoustic backing. The title track is similarly reflective as he deals with relationship breakdown, the hypnotic riff and spare, downbeat tone providing a soothing framework as he nurses his wounds thoughtfully and without bitterness – “It’s been a long time coming, this house was falling down / It can be the end, we’ll split apart and still be friends”
Closer “Champion” provides a more upbeat take on the nostalgic 70s sound that characterises much of the LP, coming on like a rousing TV theme of the era played by bashful teens. The lyrics are as illustrative of their eternal adolescence as anything else here, as Rauch sings “I remember when we were going after school / You took a picture to recall when we grow up / We never would”. But the song is an ode to his ageing mother, again looking squarely at sober truths with a cheerful disposition as Collin offers her support in her elderly years: “It is not enough to make up for wasted time / The shelves collecting dust, the stairs are hard to climb / I’ll be right by your side”. It’s a touching end to the album, again managing to find some positivity in the darkness. Overall, “Bell House” is a fine, emotionally literate record which makes it clear that life is not always a comfortable experience, but also that the warmth of shared endeavour can sometimes help to soften the blows.