why we love this
A deeply engaging, effortlessly listenable collection of Balearic pop with overtones of yacht rock, Kraftwerk, and Graceland.
about the record
Shy Layers’ debut is a quiet, sometimes cryptic record where purring vocoders veil hushed singing, plucked guitars are wreathed in reverb, and African highlife melodies nimbly snake around echoing drums and arpeggiated synthesizers. It’s hard to say exactly which parts are played and which parts are programmed; it’s not even terribly clear whether there’s a whole band jamming, or just one person laying down overdubs.
In fact, Shy Layers is JD Walsh, a multi-media artist who recently relocated with his family from Brooklyn to Atlanta. Although Shy Layers is the first of his musical projects to achieve any measure of notoriety, he’s been making music forever, and you could guess as much from his deeply intuitive understanding of pop’s mechanics. As understated as a lot of these tunes are, he’s got a keen melodic sensibility that keeps even his simplest chord changes bubbling in your head long after the glossy digital reverb has faded out. While nearly every song floats tranquilly atop a pneumatic bed of synthesizers, the album rarely scans as electronic music, per se. His rhythms combine electronic percussion with acoustic drums cloaked in warm, dry room tone, and guitars frequently take the lead.
Some of the album’s influences are easy to pinpoint. His vocoders sound like kinder, gentler versions of Kraftwerk’s robotic choirs, and his bright-eyed melodies share that band’s almost- naïve quality. Highlife and Afropop make their presence felt in lanky electric guitar and mbira-like synthesizers on “Too Far Out,” while “Bees and Bamboos” attempts a kind of ersatz Ethio-jazz with twinned guitar leads and splashes of piano; the chintzy keyboards and dubbed-out saxes of “SEG” have a distinctly Caribbean feel. The dreamy “Holding It Back,” meanwhile, is an obvious Arthur Russell homage, right down to a refrain, “Kissing on the dark side of the moon,” that mingles romance and childlike innocence.
Other aspects of the album’s deeply referential sound are more difficult to put your finger on, even though you know you’ve heard them somewhere. Plucked guitars, watery synth pads, flanged acoustic strumming, and gated reverb conjure hazy memories of the 1980s: echoes of Tears for Fears, Talking Heads, and Phil Collins swirl together into a home-recorded pastiche of big-money studio polish. And on “Playing the Game,” spindly synths and a high-necked bass melody reminiscent of Joy Division dissolve into giddy falsetto coos, suggesting an alternate universe where goths wear pastel colors. It is the sweetest kind of déjà vu.