Living up to the “the dream of the 90s is alive in Portland” claim that defines Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen’s genius sketch show, one-man bedroom project-turned-seven piece outfit Shy Girls’ synth-led R&B sound unashamedly harks back to the New Jack Swing era of Bell, Biv & Divoe, Shai and Boyz II Men.
Initially shrouded in mystery with the release of 2011 debut EP, Sex In The City, thanks to a series of deliberately obscured photos and lack of song-writing credits, Shy Girls was eventually revealed to be the brainchild of Dan Vidmar, a Pennsylvania-born vocalist/producer who had moved to the state of Oregon just two years prior.
Growing in up a house largely devoid of music and a town dominated by rock, the 26-year-old’s first experience of performing was in a Paul Simon cover band while studying at Penn State University. After plans to forge a career as an Animal Collective-esque freak-folk artist fell through, he instead switched his attention to the earnest and romantic R&B that had dominated the airwaves during his childhood.
Balancing his musical ambitions with a day job in an emergency room, Vidmar also began toying with a slap-bass loving, yacht rock-inspired alter-ego named Federer. But it was his “teenage female” side that began to attract the most attention when he assembled a permanent backing band including tUnE-yArDs saxophonist Noah Bernstein, former Feist backing vocalist Matthew Flowers and long-time best friend Ingmar Carlson to take his retro sound out onto the road.
Despite this new set-up, new EP Timeshare proves that Shy Girls remain as slick, smooth and as spacious as ever. “Under Attack” is a gorgeously slow-burning blend of glossy synths, steely guitars and Vidmar’s falsetto-led vocals, and “Still Not Falling” is the kind of heart-breaking slow jam The Weeknd pioneered before he became so self-absorbed.
Elsewhere, following the recent stunning collaboration with pitch-shifted maestro Cyril Hahn, the emphatic big beats and sprightly funk riffs of “Voyeur’s Grace” continues to prove that Shy Girls are just as appealing when they take the pace up a notch. Let’s hope that a full-length debut is in the works.