Even in photos, Shiny Joe Ryan exudes a sense of playfulness. The album art for Shiny’s Democracy (★★★☆☆) features the Irish-born, Australian psychedelic rocker reenacting an iconic photo from the ’70s, with a trace of irony — the original photo of the Australian Prime Minister being dismissed from parliament represents for Shiny Joe “a failure of democracy.” But the artist’s first solo album in seven years is anything but a failure, with a catchy, accessible sound that is still very much his own.
As a founding member of Pond and sometime collaborator with their Western Australian neighbors Tame Impala, Shiny Joe has been swimming in psych rock circles for some time. Like its close cousin prog rock, the genre loves a good concept album, as attested by Pond’s recent work and Shiny Joe’s solo debut. Somewhat surprisingly, Shiny’s Democracy is a departure from that highly conceptual ethos. Rather than a focused journey through a particular subject, the idea seems to have been to explore and experiment, resulting in an album with a much more improvisational feel to it.
Shiny Joe’s enthusiasm is palpable throughout the album, but he seems to have most of his fun with its two singles. “Ketamine” is a bright, playful track with an innocent absurdity behind it. The mood is captured perfectly by the accompanying lo-fi music video that features a laughing and smiling Shiny Joe bouncing around a pier in silver runners and matching shiny jacket while the chorus spells out the word “ketamine.” The almost entirely instrumental second single, “Pub Boat,” is markedly different, featuring spacey guitars and a thudding bass line that puts it closer to Pond’s offerings than most of the other tracks.
For the most part, however, Shiny’s Democracy has a sound that stays fairly consistent, owing to the strong, upfront vocals as well as fantastic chord progressions and harmonies that lift even the sleepier tracks like “Dad’s Hat,” which finds him channeling his inner Billy Joel on a dusky, nostalgic ballad that begins in a Brooklyn park.
Playing around with multiple styles and genres results in an album that is notably light on psychedelic elements, although they are certainly present. At times it seems like Shiny Joe can’t help himself, giving us moments like the beachy pop-rock melody of “Yes Song,” bursting without warning in its last minute into crashing drums and icy synths. His restraint finally melts away on the closing track, “I’m Singing a New Song Pt.2,” an expansive, elegiac rejoinder to the much briefer and more lighthearted opener. It also happens to be one of the album’s best, with a torrent of spacey maximalist sounds coming flooding through all at once.
Described in a release as a musician who “wants to try everything once (or twice) with no plans of slowing down,” Shiny Joe brings a magpie-like sensibility to his latest album, lending it a sense of variety that keeps it sounding interesting throughout and tying it together with stellar production and solid vocals. Though it lags a bit in places, Shiny’s Democracy is a solid sophomore album from start to finish.
Shiny’s Democracy will be released on July 23, 2021. Visit https://shinyjoeryan.ffm.to/shinysdemocracy.
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