The debut album by Shelter Boy, Failure Familiar, is a weathervane spinning on the shifting winds of its protagonist’s emotional wellbeing. With a dazzling palette of sound—from the stretched-out rock anthems that Oasis made their name on to Mac DeMarco’s languid guitar-pop and King Krule’s woozy beat-driven songcraft—it’s a striking introduction to an artist using classic ideas to mine modern life’s pitfalls. The result is holistic and propulsive music, restorative as it is self-reflective.
Before Simon “Shelly” Graupner went solo as Shelter Boy, the East Germany-raised musician played guitar in the indie rock band Still Trees. “I thought I might be able to make better music on my own,” he explains. His debut EP, Mirage Morning from 2019, showcased his intricate songcraft and rich melodic sensibilities, leading to tours with artists like Gus Dapperton and Omar Apollo, as well as a gig with Norwegian pop artist Boy Pablo shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic halted concerts.
The friendship with Pablo was effortless and immediate, and the two eventually collaborated on Failure Familiar’s lead single, “Terrace,” with Pablo lending his distinct croon to Shelly’s gloriously head-in-the-clouds creation. The album however is wholly a reflection of the latter’s unique musical vision, combining the multifarious textures of classic British guitar pop and the low-slung grooves of hip-hop auteurs like Madlib and the late J Dilla.
“I always try to build a bridge between those two worlds,” Shelly states while discussing his musical perspective, as well as his lyrical preoccupations. “I’m writing about what’s wrong inside of me, and I try to see what’s going on with people around me too—to get context with what I feel. Most of the time, I’m trying to outrun my personal demons.” Failure Familiar was largely written and recorded during lockdown, but the themes it addresses are beyond the pandemic itself; the psychedelic guitar anthem “Atmosphere”—an expansive strummer reminiscent of the Happy Mondays’ heyday—was inspired by conflicting feelings that arose after attending a party.
“I was pretty down, and I thought the party and the people would bring me joy, but they didn’t,” he remembers. “I ended up feeling very alone in a big crowd. Sometimes you simultaneously want to talk to people and also be alone.” This juxtaposition can be heard in the heartache that accompanies the cresting riffs of “Gazeback” clear through to the sweeping orchestral pop of closer “I Can Be Sad.”
Then there’s the punchy new wave of “Absence,” which finds Shelter Boy zooming out past his own viewpoint to explore the nature of human relationships at large—a topic inspired by a conversation with a close friend. “It’s about betraying somebody—not even doing it, but the thought of doing it,” he explains. “In your head, you’ve taken every step. It’s a conflicted feeling, and I wanted to give that a stage.”
And shining light on complicated feelings is exactly what his aim is with Failure Familiar, as well as Shelter Boy’s music in general: “I’m trying to show another way of being vulnerable, and to let people know that these feelings exist and can relate to it.” Indeed, Failure Familiar’s brilliant merge of bright melodicism and inward-looking emotionalism is deeply felt, its reverberations carrying on long after the last note’s settled.