This Is Your World: Mapping Out Shy Girls' Mosaic Of Sound
All the freedom afforded to the modern musician can be empowering, but it can also paralyzing, particularly when you’re a do-it-all producer/singer/songwriter like Dan Vidmar, who performs as Shy Girls. Like a magician escaping from a padlocked trunk, Vidmar sets parameters for himself when he’s working on an album.
“It’s always been important for me to do that, it’s maybe something I got from Brian Eno or John Cage or some of those more heady dudes that talk about process more. I think it makes the art a lot better when you constrain yourself a little bit. For previous albums, the constraints were more conceptual, but for this one they were more literal.”
'Bird On The Wing', his sophomore album and first since 2017, is built around hypnotic drum loops, thick live bass, and shimmery chords from a vintage Casio keyboard. If that sounds like it would get repetitive, Vidmar’s production never grows static as he creates an ever-shifting backdrop to explore love and what happens after we fall into it.
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Vidmar, who was born in Pennsylvania but is now based in Portland, jokingly describes his early influences on the album’s sound as “super random shit.” He’s right, it’s tough to picture a cocktail of old Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, and pre-College Dropout Kanye West that goes down smoothly, but Vidmar pulls it off on the funky, but ephemeral 'This Is Your World' and the dreamy 'Headfucked'.
“It almost felt like it could be a band that made the record, which is how I’ve always operated. When you record as a band, the drummer usually plays the same drum kit for the entire album, the bassist maybe switches guitars, but he’s always playing a bass,” Vidmar explained. “I wanted it to feel like that because that’s where I come from. Growing up I was always in bands, that mentality makes sense to me.”
The recording for 'Birds' started not long after Shy Girls’ debut album, 'Salt', came out in January 2017. One song, 'Hallelujah', has roots all the way back to 2012. Along the way, Vidmar’s philosophy on love has changed, which is reflected on tender tracks like 'Hallelujah' and 'What Do You Do When You’ve Found Love?'.
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Vidmar’s definition of love is intertwined with a kind of spirituality, leading to songs like 'Finding Your God' that border on pious. But the artist is careful to explain that the religious imagery is almost entirely philosophical, a connection based on the certain amount of blind belief both require.
“I didn’t even kind of realize that I was doing that, but the album is a lot about love and a lot about being in love and falling in love, and that to me has always been a bit of a religious experience, or the closest thing for me to a religion, because I’m not religious,” he said. “That’s probably where my faith lies.”
Though Vidmar describes himself as “a jaded motherfucker,” 'Bird On The Wing' is an exceptionally sweet and considered album that captures the myriad of secondary emotions that come with falling in love. Vidmar clearly has strong instincts as a writer, and in fact his only real lack of intuition may come in knowing which of his songs are going to succeed. He admitted that he was skeptical of 2013’s “Second Heartbeat,” which became the defining single of his early career.
“My first EP, I didn’t want ‘Second Heartbeat’ to be a single, I just didn’t feel like it was a single. That became probably the biggest song of the first few years of my career, so sometimes I just don’t know what I’m talking about," he said. "I guess I don’t have A&R ears.”
With his knack for placing relatable emotion into infectious music, don’t be surprised if one of the warm, danceable songs off 'Birds On The Wing' becomes a sleeper hit. It just probably won’t be the one Vidmar expects.
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'Bird On The Wing' is out now.
Words: Grant Rindner
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