Shy Boys’ sound sits at a very unusual spot somewhere between modern and throwback. The Kansas City quintet employs elements of surf, doo wop and classic pop, but they aren’t a ‘60s cosplay act. They rely heavily on high-and-tight vocal harmonies, but they drape them across odd little indie-rock songs. Shy Boys sound more like Fleet Foxes-meets-The Shins than the Beach Boys, but on their new album Bell House, they also sound like they just weren’t made for these times.
That’s a tricky line to walk, but one that Shy Boys handles with grace on their second full-length (and first for big indie Polyvinyl Records). Certainly, Bell House is a slight work—10 tracks in about 23 minutes—but its songs feel sturdy, as if they’re anchored by DIY ethos and a solid rhythm section.
Also, Bell House’s general aesthetic evolves across its short running time. The front end is loaded with punchy rockers, like “Take the Doggie,” which is built around a restless bass line and a relatively frenetic pace, and “Tragic Loss,” an urgent strummer with an ascendant, harmony-heavy chorus. The members of Shy Boys include a pair of brothers and a bunch of best friends, and you can hear that closeness when they sing together.
The album’s middle section finds the band moving slightly away from bite-sized cuddle-punk and toward a broader sound. “No Fun” features pretty guitar work, wistful falsetto vocals and a noisy coda, while “Evil Sin” sounds like a homemade concoction of blips and chimes and sighs and melody. Elsewhere, “Something Sweet” is a perfect pop tune that sounds like it fell from the Oh, Inverted World tree. For those who’ve forgotten in the years since, The Shins’ debut album is a high point for quietly quirky indie-pop, and Shy Boys acquit themselves well within its shadow.
The band closes Bell House with a couple of songs that show off its relaxed side and stylistic diversity. The title track spends its entire second half riding a repeated three-note riff and some woozy wordless vocals off into dreamland, while “Champion” closes the album with a sweet ‘n’ snappy tribute to the mother of Shy Boys Collin and Kyle Rausch. Sandwiched in between them is something quite different: “Disconnect,” a song that has more in common with 21st century R&B than indie whatever.
“Disconnect” is a hidden gem on this album, just as Shy Boys are a hidden gem of band out there in Kansas City, where buzz is harder to come by than it is on either coast. Bell House, however, reveals an uncommon combination of craft and charisma that should send Shy Boys on to bigger and better things.