Without getting mired in another dull discussion about the impossibility of keeping up with never-ending cycle of musical trends, recycled fads and sub-sub-sub-genre cross-fertilisations, you can’t help but feel that the decline of this whole R&B-indie thing (R’n’Bindie? Alt. R&B? Does anyone care?) has been sign-posted by the artistic decline of The Weeknd. The once invisible figurehead of the R&B/indie crossover’s latest album Kissland is an egotistical mess of unmemorable tunes and self-parodying lyrics, with the mystery stripped away revealing an archetypal smug faced would-be alt. R’n’B pin-up. However, considered in its broadest sense ‘indie R&B’ is in pretty rude health in 2013 with excellence to be found in the silken smooth warmth of Rhye’s Open or the more hallucinatory stuttering of Autre Ne Veut’s Anxiety. There’s still room for latecomers if they have something fresh to bring.
On Timeshare, Shy Girls'(the pseudonym of Dan Vidmar) most distinctive quality is perhaps his straightforwardness; that is to say he’s distinctive amongst his more adventurous peers by sticking closer to conventional R&B, all sugared falsetto, seductive tempos and clean crisp production values. Not for him the decaying wells of reverb favoured by How To Dress Well. EP opener ‘Without’ twinkles and gleams like a hall of mirrors and finds Vidmar in appropriately reflective mood as he coos “I’ve got a clear vision, but visions don’t make up for love”. It’s a smooth kind of catharsis at work on Timeshare, having more in common with Marvin Gaye’s most intimate output than it does with that of his contemporaries, be they indie or mainstream, perhaps with the exception of Drake, but compared to him Shy Girls is virtually bravado free. If Timeshare has a default setting then it’s a sort of slow jam plea. On ‘Still Not Falling’ he is self-effacing (“I’m not an athlete, I stay home and make beats. I’m not a player, so this isn’t fair…”) and on ‘When I Say I Love U’ he’s just downright needy (“When I say I love you I mean I need you”). He’s an R&B bed-wetter looking for love.
The much repeated message of EP closer ‘Under Attack’ is that “Love at first sight is better than love from last night”. It’s safe to say that he’s an old soul in a sleek modern chassis and it’s one that sounds like it was agonised over. Timeshare bears the meticulously arranged feel you’d expect from a bedroom producer, but with glossier production values and a healthier complexion. He’s a talented player too with his nifty guitar work lending a yacht-rock sophistication to ‘Still Not Falling’ and ‘Under Attack’, accompanied on the latter by a deliciously indulgent sax solo by tUnEyArDs’ Noah Bernstein, ironically as Vidmar declares “No more clubs, no more parties, no more drama and no more shame”.
Despite the evident attention to craft and lyrical mood setting, Shy Girls somehow fails to engage for the entire duration of the six song EP. Vidmar’s attention to detail and production is admirable, but unsurprisingly leaves the EP feeling somewhat homogenous and the less immediate tracks suffer. The five minutes of ‘When I Say I Love U’ a particular slog and the crude two-note organ hook and monotonous phrasing of ‘Voyeur’s Gaze’ are forgettable. It is only on the standout ‘Second Heartbeat’ that Vidmar pushes beyond his influences, moving into outright pop territory by pushing up the BPM and adding squelchy buzzing bass, warm synth pads and afro-lite guitars to create a faux-exotic pop vibe redolent Toto’s ‘Africa’ or Men At Work’s ‘Land Down Under’. Timeshare might be a little short on ideas, but there’s enough to suggest that Shy Girls might just be saving the best for that full-length debut.
6Neil Ashman's Score