On their debut album O That I Had Wings Brooklyn-based Shy Hunters mine the dark pop and R&B of the early ’90s Bristol set and the “arcane night music” of the Smashing Pumpkins’ 1998 masterpiece Adore. Vocalist/guitarist Indigo Street worships at the altar of Kate Bush with her angelic chants, while drummer Sam Levin churns out steady, pulsating rhythms that slowly build to the occasional foray into erratic behavior. They seem prone to shades of Poliça, fellow students of Portishead and Massive Attack, with some of the guitar color of Bloc Party.
As all of those reference bands have shown, there is beauty in the darkness. Shy Hunters buy into that wholeheartedly. Some might find a lonely walk along the Williamsburg Bridge a suffocating and disturbing adventure, but Street and Levin take that and prostrate toward the stars in the night sky over the city. Sure, there is some pain. Yes, there is the potential to get sucked into some strange underworld, but the benefits are glorious.
The Bush homage vocals start right away in album opener “Echoes.” Underneath the siren are icy synthesizers and a steady rhythm section that recall the heavier cuts off Poliça’s Give You The Ghost, but with skittering and meandering guitars that often peel off the walls with every scream. Street pulls all of this together as she sings, “Your voice echoes / Reminding me of our lost time.” “Real Love” grooves along as if Dev Hynes of Blood Orange were fed a steady diet of narcotics and left, blindfolded, in a large, abandoned farmhouse somewhere in the breadbasket of America. The lethargy would frustrate him as he’d set forth trying to replicate his sound in the adjacent, busted-up barn as he stared at the pitch-white full moon that sought to illuminate it all.
“Right World” opens with a choppy, manipulated percussion sample along which Levin thumps and Street pulls out some riffage straight off the Singles soundtrack. Her voice resonates powerfully over all of this minor-chord driven magic. As the listener takes in album closer “Idle Days,” it is clear in the crystalline darkness and delicate atmospherics that Shy Hunters have crafted a cohesive album that in its slow and moody presence, dabbled with pretty bursts of joy and other surprises, is a consistent, important record worthy of its place on the Ikea shelf next to some of the great purveyors of the genre in the ’90s. Like the good students they are, they not only want to master the craft but want to distill that into something of their own. Here, they have succeeded.