US - Wall of Sound
Few things in life are more satisfying than your favourite band making the album you always wanted them to make. That may explain why Status Quo fans seem so content, but for the rest of us such a rare occasion is one to savour. And for those into Shy Child, that moment is here. The New York duo’s latest album, ‘Liquid Love’, is everything you hoped it would be – rich, tuneful, adventurous, and utterly enchanting.
“I like to think of it as the female album and the last one as the male album,” says Pete Cafarella, Shy Child’s singer and keyboardist.
So it’s one for the girls?
“Girls and women, let’s put it that way. My mum enjoys it. My aunt Muriel enjoys it, and she hated the last album. Couldn’t even listen to it for ten seconds. She used the word ‘scared’.”
No doubt about it, ‘Noise Won’t Stop’, Shy Child’s 2007 breakthrough album, was a pretty aggressive listen. But it was packed with the kind of ripsnorting synth-funk and lean, boistrous pop that pitched the energetic pair – Pete and drummer Nate Smith – somewhere between the White Stripes and Lil Jon. Though they’d released two albums before it in the US, ‘Noise Won’t Stop’ was their first for Wall Of Sound and served as the perfect introduction to this resourceful synth’n’drums duo.
On the back of the sweaty soul of singles such as ‘Drop the Phone’ and ‘Summer’, Shy Child toured the hell out of 2006 and 2007. Inevitably, being touring pals of the Klaxons and with a penchant for brightly coloured t-shirts, they were bundled on to the new-rave bandwagon. But, looking back, who wasn’t?
“We just kind of fell into that,” says Nate. “We played shows with Klaxons when we first came to England because they were starting out and we got on really well with them. But the whole new rave thing we were affiliated with is something that was assigned to us, not something we tried to fit into.”
In any case, ‘Noise Won’t Stop’ opened plenty of doors for the guys. Bjork and Paul McCartney watched them perform live in the studio during the recording of Later with Jools Holland – “Two of our favourite artists in the world standing ten feet from us on live TV. It was surreal” – after which Stella McCartney, there to watch dad, invited Shy Child to play a Fashion Rocks bash at the Royal Albert Hall. But it wasn’t all air-kissing – they were invited to tour China in the autumn of 2008, which turned out to be the weirdest experience of their lives. “China is another planet and every city there is a country on that planet,” says Pete, still traumatised by the trip.
Shy Child reconvened last spring and set about making ‘Liquid Love’ in the place they’ve always recorded their albums, Gigantic Studios in New York’s Tribeca. Producer Chris Zane (Les Savy Fav, Passion Pit) was again at the helm, and together they spent a few months in the studio teasing out a different side to Shy Child. Swaddled in electronic production and synthesisers, ‘Liquid Love’ offers the kind of twinklingly elegant pop that many will welcome after the hectic shrill of ‘Noise Won’t Stop’. If that album felt rather eager to please, ‘Liquid Love’ has a warmth and friendliness about it, an easy-going harmonious groove that courses through a suite of tremendous new tunes, from ‘Criss Cross’ and ‘Open Up the Sky’ into ‘Dark Destiny’ and ‘E.S.P’. Producing sparkling pop of such exceedlingly high quality, Shy Child sound like a completely different band, revitalised and, arguably, wiser. Why head in this synthier direction?
“Well, it wasn’t really a decision as such,” says Pete, whose West Coast FM croon suits the record’s soft-phased funk perfectly. “I’ve always played synths and it’s just what I play. If you want to be in a pop/rock band and you don’t play guitar, there’s not many options. We listened to a lot of 70s and 80s pop too.”
“Yeah,” says Nate, “the last record was inspired by the music that was coming out that we were listening to. And this one was more inspired by classic stuff like Hall and Oates. If I were to describe the album in a few words, I would call it melancholic but hopeful.”
One can detect traces of vintage cosmic disco bubbling in the background of seven-minute comeback nugget ‘Criss Cross’, while Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Everywhere’ riff is boldly quoted at the start of the title track. What’s more, it takes some skill to produce fuzzy gems such as ‘The Beatles’, ‘Disconnected’ and ‘Borderline’ that manage to sound taut and tuneful and deliciously stoned. If that Julian Casablancas solo record had been produced by Stuart Price, would it sound as good as ‘Liquid Love’? Maybe, at a push.
And that album title? Well, like a lot of guys in their late-20s, Nate and Pete are still figuring plenty of things out. The concept of ‘Liquid Love’, for example, is something Pete’s been grappling with for a while.
“Love is the pinnacle of human emotion and existence, right? But for me it’s indefinable,” he says. “I go back and forth. Love is great but it’s also wrapped up in tragedy. My love for music is liquid, it flows around. It’s like the tide, it ebbs and flows. And my relationships with people are like that. I’m not just like, ‘Oh I love you’ – sometimes you piss me