Harkening the classic wave-break shore sound of surf rock, the South Jersey-based alternative band Shy Shape has a new EP, "Out at Night," and it suits the season well.
Fresh off the beach with splashes of doo-wop and surf rock, the tracks on this album are surprisingly diverse and hard hitting. The brisk pace of the drums and tension in each piece reflects the coming season and semester here at Rutgers. Yet, what is found in this distinct EP is a unique flavor of alternative rock, which takes a bit of Hank Williams country, DIY punk rock, a dash of reggae, some Ventures’ surf rock and some completely original flair.
A word of caution for listeners of the faint of heart — there is not a tender moment on this album. Through and through, each song explodes with color and exuberance with a slightly different taste, and that is annunciated through the opener "River City." A rapid doo-wop, surf rock-bop, Shy Shape’s sound becomes clear early on — light, sporadic and fun.
Interestingly, the piano is front and center on this and every other piece in the album. Mike Dugan’s iconic rough, yet nimble vocals, really compliment and benefit the songs greatly.
The lyrics are charmingly macabre, such as “I don’t know if I could ever fall in love with you — cut my toes off just so I could fit the other shoe.”
Complete with growls, various voice inflections and a guitar solo sopping with distortion, "River City" is the first hit single off of "Out at Night," and sets the tone swimmingly. The EP remains consistent and definite with the energy, yet gets much more explorative with the genres infused.
The next song, "Cinders," is rowdy, swinging and has the feel of a saloon or country-western melody. After some recurring listens, it becomes quite clear how coarse and direct Dugan’s lyrics and vocals are in lieu to the rest of the band. The strong, unusual tone and harshness of his voice seems to juxtapose the seemingly balanced, traditional piano chords and melodies. To even further this peculiar divide, the rest of the band’s instruments accompany this style with a rather tame feeling with rhythm in the bass line and beat.
"Comeback", the next track on the album, takes a breath from the erratic momentum of the past two songs. Still innovatively passionate with its delivery, the piano seems to chirp along with a crisp accompaniment of ride cymbals, light guitar strokes and a glockenspiel. Surprisingly forceful, the lyrics paired well with this graceful melody and proved to be yet another strong contrast — “and I can’t look you in the eyes and say, ‘I never loved." Fortunately, an instrumental break in the piece relieves the tension while keeping the theme constant. This is arguably the most interesting song on the album for its dynamics, song structure and usage of lyrical content.
The closer song "Oh Too Much" brings the album to a strange place with a country backbeat and theme. A theremin resides somewhere in the shade of the song, only letting the listener catch glimpses of it between the stomping beats. The tremolo guitar imitates the lonesome sound of a mirage, if mirages made a sound. As the chorus arrives, Dugan’s call rises above a moving wall of doo-wop harmonies, collectively forming the now-established Shy Shape sound. The melody continues, and as soon as it starts it seems that the song finishes.
Shy Shape’s "Out at Night" proves to be a rather intriguing experimental alternative rock EP. While many components of the album seem to stick with the listener, such as the fantastic production, mixing of the album and heavily recognizable focus on the piano in each piece, some elements seemed to outweigh others. Dugan’s vocals prove to be an excellent vehicle for the theme and angst of his lyrics. They can also seem too rough, perhaps even out of place with the brightness and tone of some pieces. That being said, his vocal work does keep the listener in focus over the sometimes subtle backdrop of the music in melody.
Regardless, Shy Shape produced a nice seasonal EP and shows a lot of potential and growth in writing for their next projects.