Album Review: Shygirl – Nymph

[Because Music; 2022]

On her debut LP Nymph, UK artist Shygirl proves to be a master at transmuting almost any type of club music to her own fluid sensibility. It’s one of those rare pop records that embodies sex in all its visceral power and intimate intricacies. This is a tricky balance to strike, especially in an industry that often sells sex for reductive reasons; platitudinal soapbox-standing masquerading as ‘taboo breaking’ and even worse, objectification that pays no mind to the therapeutical value of sex. 

Shygirl – real name Blane Muise – leaves no stone unturned when it comes to exploring her own sexuality. Her method of storytelling is both hyper personal and veiled in anonymity, brandishing a vocabulary often sounds aloof and prosaic; deliberately reduced to the brevity of your average sexting exchange. This forces the listener to lean in closer to the subtleties and impulses of her delivery; gleefully lost in the innuendo of where the cheeky quip ends and the vulnerable confession begins. Refreshingly, she doesn’t bother overselling her message with NSFW-exhibitionism, which only adds to her mystique and coolness.

Shygirl’s suggestive powers are amplified in Nymph’s magnetic fornicating of big pop fireworks with bleeding edge production values. Opening track “Woe” hauls the listener in this delightful push-pull dynamic: the understatedly gorgeous first act of the song captures that euphoric feeling of stepping into a club, with all those sensations greeting you at once: the vibrations of the music, the aroma of liquor, sweat, smoke and perfume, the unintelligible small talk compressed into a hive of jittery hullabaloo. You can imagine the song’s protagonist scanning for that first glance meeting her own. To adrenaline-pumping effect, “Woe”’s spectral R&B groove suddenly accelerates into a burrowing trap verse that wouldn’t feel out of place on Shygirl’s excellent ALIAS EP from 2020.

On Nymph, Shygirl already flexes a genius many of the great pop heavyweights possess: the ability to integrate several high-profile collaborators into a bigger overarching vision. How many debuting artists can say they make the likes of Danny L Harle, Cosha, Mura Masa, longtime collaborator Sega Bodega and Vegyn – each producer accomplished enough to put a strong individual stamp on a pop record – feel part of the same sonic ecosystem?

Oh right, Arca answered the call as well, leaning fully into her venereal production style on “Come For Me”, delineating a familiar reggaeton cadence with guttural squalor. As a counterbalance, Shygirl’s voice doesn’t appear wanton or forceful, but saccharine, unflustered and inquisitive, letting a sliver of deep affection slip through (“If you look at me I never get lonely”) amidst the coy pillow talk. 

The heart-jumping “Coochie (a bedtime story)” is somehow certified sex banger and nursery rhyme in one, as Shygirl paints the surreal imagery of the vagina having anthropomorphic qualities; an entity that needs to be nourished as much as the mind. “Firefly” effortlessly forges a mighty sword of glitchy hyperpop production and infectious UK two-step inflections. “Poison” adopts Ibiza-styled Euro house into a cavernous club frolic. Shygirl abducts these nostalgic elements outside of their natural habitat into aural pleasure zones where they feel invented anew.

Though the album’s second half contains fewer thrills than the first, Nymph is a rewarding floor-filling paean to sexual freedom. Throughout the history of pop music, artists have put fresh spins on both the glitter and gloom of sexual relationships; PJ Harvey primal screamed her sexual desires with ravenous intensity on her classic LP Rid Of Me, and of course there is Björk, who paints sexual pleasure with volcanic sound abstractions. With Nymph, Shygirl brings another original voice in the mix; good luck hearing a record that portrays sex in similarly tactile, authentic and effortlessly cool fashion.