Since the ’80s, when the keytar underwent something of a renaissance, keyboards strapped around people’s shoulders have been an endangered, if not completely extinct species of instrument. Since the turn of the millennium, however, dancepunk bands, nü-ravers and disco revivalists have made a concerted effort to breathe new life into the dying keytar and present its bizarre, somewhat cheesy presence to a new generation of kids in tight pants. Were it not for Shy Child, I might think not think much of this portable keyboard revival, but Nate Smith and Pete Cafarella have given ample evidence of just how hard one can rock a keytar.
About a year and a half ago, I caught Shy Child’s set opening for Hot Chip in San Diego, and to call it a pleasant surprise is to sell the New York City duo a bit short. Confidently rocking a keytar strapped to his back, Cafarella blasted energy and vigor forth from his secret analog weapon. Even the Casbah crowd, which is typically stationary, especially for opening bands, couldn’t resist getting down to this insanely vibrant duo.
That ebullient presence is what drives the 12 songs on the group’s third album, Noise Won’t Stop. While a variety of magazines (mostly British) have already likened Shy Child to an electronic White Stripes, they don’t exactly sound much like Jack and Meg White. However, I won’t fault these journalists for the comparison, because Shy Child is far more rock `n’ roll than purely disco. The secret weapon here is Nate Smith’s live drums, which lend an incredible impact to each song. First track “Drop the Phone” is a prime example of just how powerful Shy Child’s danceable rave-rock can be when Smith lets loose.
Cafarella’s synths in “Drop the Phone” and “Pressure to Come” are choppy and punchy, jabbing aggressively while undercut by rave sirens and his own high energy vocals. “The Volume,” meanwhile, bubbles with a super-fun, sci-fi new wave rhythm, being as smooth and dense as it is catchy. Spank Rock drops a verse on the Southern hip-hop bounce influenced “Kick Drum,” while “Generation Y,” with female backup vocals and plenty of electric piano to go around, grooves with a Latin flair. “Angel of Mercy” reveals the depth of the duo’s melodic strength, with synth filters flaring like classic Chemical Brothers, yet with a tunefulness that Big Beat never could quite get right. And “Astronaut,” the album’s first single, bounces like Goldfrapp at their glittery, glam-pop best.
In the past two years, Shy Child has opened for the likes of Muse and Björk in venues of immense capacity, though if any electronic pop duo could pull it off, it’s these two. Nate Smith and Pete Cafarella expel an incredible wall of sound from their deceptively small set-up. With a sound this strong, Shy Child just might soon enough have the world playing air keytar in unison.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.