Review: Shy Boys - 'Bell House'

On Bell House (Polyvinyl), Kansas City’s Shy Boys deliver a cohesive and ambitious jangle-dream-pop edible, with crunchy lyrics and song topics to boot. These include family, misspent youth, and the joys (and fears) of growing your own weed. The main binding agent here are the strong stylistic tendencies that make up the band’s sound: a fresh take on 1960s guitar pop, featuring unprocessed but complex vocal arrangements. After all, according to my Renaissance professor, all angels featured in Christian art (or putti as they’re called) are in fact boys.

“Evil Sin,” which has a killer video, starts with a three (or four)-part harmony a cappella intro before introducing the listener to dreamy effects-laden guitar paired with chamber pop keys. According to the Bandcamp page write-up (by none other than Kevin Morby), the song is about when the bassist/drummer Konnor Ervin was robbed. However, to my ears, the lyrics describe the almost daily task of processing the transgressions of others: “If you want to be my friend, don’t ever lie again,” is the final refrain of the song.

Bell House is loaded with short, sweet, and light-humored songs, but Shy Boys prove they can also take-off, soar, and land on their longer 3-minute-ish songs. “Something Sweet,” for example, functions like a true driving song, featuring a jaunty bassline walk and one of the strongest stand-alone melodies on the record.

On the title track, the band takes the opportunity to build sweet interlacing harmonies over a steady Marr-esque arpeggio strum. The drums stay put in the background like a 1970s high school dance drummer, culminating in a vibe that can withstand comparison to rueful but undeterred ballads like “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” Personally, “Bell house” is my bid for setting out on that 9pm walk when the pavement has finally started cooling down it’s your chance at the day’s one clear thought before he sun goes down. If you have to cry, do it; take your time, like Shy Boys do on this peaceful, judgment-free number.

Final track, “Champion,” is a touching ode to Kyle and Colin’s mom, and features a Sting-approximating vocal performance (the band’s homepage features a scrolling roll-call of the bands they cover live, including The Police, The Beach Boys, Paul Simon, and Dobie Grey). Occupying a conspicuous place in the tracklisting, “Champion” is truly a celebratory ode that doesn’t strive to be anything it’s not, which is how the people who love us most want us to be.


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