By Tanner Meadows
Artist: Shy Kids
Album: in a state
Release Date: February 23, 2018
Label: Culvert Music
After gaining some mainstream commercial success in their hometown of Toronto, Canada, following the release of their 2015 album Lofty!, the indie pop band, shy kids, had a go at taking their talents south of the border and into the good ol’ US of A. That is the inspiration for their latest release, in a state, a semi-concept and cleverly named album centered around the band’s mental states as they travel across the America, and the surprises and upsets they experience trying to make it in America. Sonically, they remind me a lot of New Politics, with maybe a little Panic! at the Disco.
in a state is the fusion of shy kids’ affinity for filmmaking as well as their musical talent. What makes this album so interesting is the video aspect; every song has a music video and all of them are cut together into a kind of shortfilm. The band has always been as involved in video as they are in audio. Two of the band members, Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg, graduated from the film studies program at Ryerson University, where they collaborated and created their award winning short film, Noah. (NSFW), a brief drama taking place entirely on a computer screen. In addition to that, the band as a whole has worked and been credited on a number of artist’s music videos, the video for “Dreams Tonite” by Alvvays, for example.
The record opens up with “(intromercial)” and “ordinary hotel,” a short cartoon intro leading into a wavy, saxophone driven build up to the rest of the album. The short scene, guided by a bellhop stylistically reminiscent of Waking Life, individually foreshadowing each of the songs to come.
The first full track is “I was in New York,” a song about Toronto. More specifically, how the two cities compare. Filmed in black and white with streaks of color accenting the important visual aspects, the violin and cello accompanied with the saxophone and piano give a sweeping grandiose feeling to a jazzy noir aesthetic iconic to New York City. Going from New York to Los Angeles using the “JFK >>> LAX” as a transitionatory tool, “I was in LA” is the next full song on the album, featuring Woodman’s alter ego, Wally Wood from Hollywood. Manically happy, colorfully suited and sporting his iconic WW sunglass, the video follows his ventures attempting to make it in Hollywood. Woodman was frequently recognized on the street as “suit guy” after his ridiculous outfit earned him a spot on the jumbotron during a Dodgers game, footage he very much wanted and attain for the video. The video is a variety of shots with an emphasis on Hollywood’s corniness, with a focus on reality tv, including a shot on the live set of The Price is Right, a show Woodman has been very vocal of his affinity for. The song, as upbeat as Wally himself, goes into how making in America, seemingly the natural progression of success for a Canadian band, is not what it’s cracked up to be at all. A fast paced duo of trumpets lend to an ecstatic feeling of pomp and circumstance, authenticity and humility a concept completely alien, just like the real LA.
Moving from there into “I feel like a failure,” starring Sadzo the clown and his pitiful attempts at making children laugh. Unfortunately for him, children are monsters and the pain of others is their source of joy. What better a metaphor to represent the culture surrounding American media production than some dope trying his best getting torn apart by vicious, empathy deficient masses? “Stars take long to die, while keeping everything alive,” Sadzo contemplates before he is chased down, kids and adults pointing and laughing as foam weapons are plunged into his body in an unsettling scene of adolescent violence and confetti gore. Sadzo, I weep for you.
“The middle,” shot at Canada’s Markham Fair, is a sympathetic reprise for hodunk middle America. In a post Trump world, we often don’t practice the tolerance we preach and disregard areas off the beaten path as backwards bastions of bigotry. In interviews, the band’s most memorable experiences in the USA weren’t in NY or LA, those places are just like Toronto. Often the top of their lists are marked with places like Nebraska or Utah. Woodman remarks on the contrast between urban and rural, “simplicity doesn’t mean that we’re stupid, as far as I see you’re the one with four dollar coffee.” The gist is that backwards people aren’t always backwards, and even if they are, they’re still just people.
The final track, “if I was in Hawaii,” is the introspective, dreamy island jam that closes off the record. “I’ve found my hula groove, and I’ll bring it back to you, then we’re moving to the moon,” a slow, slow build from ukulele to an increasingly crunchy electric guitar accompany a sunset and cartoon rocket’s patient ascent into space, as the bellhop from the intro, who appears intermittently throughout the video, sits and watches waves roll onto the beach before they slide back into the sea, until the movie cuts back to the opening scene of “intromercial.” in a state is a fantastic example of how external media can make an album even more than it would be on its own.