If you like your indie pop as breezy as possible, Kansas City, Missouri’s Shy Boys have got you covered. ‘Bell House’ follows up their 2014 self-titled release, taking the key qualities of its predecessor, its quirky lyricism and prowess when harmony is concerned, and improving them with maximum indie bliss.
Like a costal stroll, the five-piece combine a flavourful warmth and taciturn wind in their sound on ‘Bell House’, with a bit of a grab bag of influences floating around. There seems to be a lot that Shy Boys have politely borrowed from another ‘boys’ quintet, that being The Beach Boys. ‘Evil Sin’ incorporates the kind of baroque pop arrangement that Brian Wilson and co. used in their songs from the mid ‘60s onwards, with gentle harpsichord keys twinkling by on occasion, but their approach to vocals is perhaps their attribute more reminiscent of The Beach Boys than anything else.
Take a look at opening track ‘Miracle Gro’, acapella if not for the background percussion. It’s not just the conventionally-beautiful harmonies that give off a strong Beach Boys vibe, but also the seamless way that each voice comes in and takes over the lead vocal duties, feeling incredibly natural. Despite being their sophomore album, Shy Boys’ approach to musical performance is anything but sophomoric.
Narratively, ‘Bell House’ is curious but understandable. There are moments of pessimism, see ‘Tragic Loss’ and the doomy ‘Disconnect’, but it’s the more fruitful cuts that keep Shy Boys from being a run-of-the-mill indie pop group. The single ‘Take the Doggie’ sees the narrator befriend his neighbour’s dog (just one of a good few animal-centric moments here), and while the newfound companionship given off by the lyrics is cute, the thinness, the apparent poor health of the dog is very unfortunate, leading to the line “one night I’m leaving here for good, and I plan to take the doggie with me”.
The short ‘Basement’ is another strangely charming piece of pop poetry, describing a unique living situation, professing how “got a wife and a dog and I’m living in my mom’s basement” isn’t such a bad life.
‘Bell House’ is a pop album, so the catchiness, the pure memorability, is going to have to be coming from somewhere. Many tracks are likeable, but maybe not loveable, but luckily, ‘Something Sweet’ exists, a wistful, melodically efficient song, that makes the most of every weapon Shy Boys have at their disposal – the adept voices, their fondness for texture, it’s all there and it’s all lovely.
There are many aspects that make ‘Bell House’ perhaps a little too inoffensive and ‘happy to be there’, but its general lightheaded take on rock music makes it one of the most accessible releases of the year.
‘Bell House’ is out now via Polyvinyl Record Co.