Shy Layers is the recording alias of Atlanta-based musician and visual artist JD Walsh, whose offbeat mixture of breezy Balearic pop, sprightly African-inspired guitar lines, and oddly soothing vocoder stacks made his debut a highly touted critics' favorite in 2016. Consisting of two previously self-released EPs joined together to form an ad hoc full-length, the album's most obvious wellsprings appeared to be the more dance-oriented tracks of Arthur Russell, 70's soft rock, African highlife, and even elements of Krautrock. Two years later, Walsh returns with his equally vibrant follow-up, Midnight Marker, via New York indie Beats in Space. If his debut served to establish Shy Layers' good vibes and panoply of tasteful influences, then Midnight Marker takes an exploratory step into the deep end as Walsh gets ever more comfortable in the weird little world he's built. For lack of a better term, Shy Layers has been loosely bundled under the electronic header, but not unlike Bibio in the U.K., it's a lazy way to describe this marvelously constructed and deftly played music that relies more often than not on live drums and guitars for its rhythmic elements. The production is crisp and the tones strange, sometimes even bordering on goofy, as he sways drunkenly between cool funky grooves, peculiar clusters of organic and digital sounds, and something resembling a 1980s company demonstration video soundtrack. The wonderful "Tropical Storm" straddles this cool/uncool border as kooky calliope-like whistles dance merrily atop a big humid synth bassline, thin canned drums, riffing equatorial guitars, and a very insistent triangle part. The stiff but somehow jazzy "Test Pattern" mirrors its own title while the comically quack-punctuated "Lover's Code" builds irresistibly into a balmy and densely reassuring sunset of sound. The album is about half instrumentals and half vocal tracks, though none of the vocal tracks really come across as anything like traditional songs, with unintelligible vocoder lyrics parenthesizing the odd line or two of soulful singing from Walsh and his handful of guests. Frequently mesmerizing and strangely calming, Midnight Marker is an oddity through and through, which is a tough trick to pull off.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger