Album Review: Shan - Palomino
I had sent the message, via Twitter, toward the end of 2019—more than likely around the time that I had rediscovered, on my laptop, the music of the underground/internet R&B artist who once performed under the name Boy/Friend, or sometimes, BOYSLASHFRIEND—stylized, like that, in all capital letters.
The music—two full-lengths released two years apart, a handful of singles, and an EP from the autumn of 2016, were things that I hadn’t exactly forgotten about—there is a good possibility that I, in fact, thought about bits and pieces of Boy/Friend’s output quite regularly—because that is something, especially as of late, I find I often do.
But I had not actually sat down with these tunes, and listened with intention, in several years.
And perhaps, you are somebody like myself who has spent a bulk of your life listening to music—not just in a casual or passive sense, but intently and thoughtfully listening; perhaps you are somebody who, like myself, spends a lot of time perpetually reading about, or learning about bands or artists—always on the lookout for something new worthy of my attention.
And if you are somebody like myself, you will understand that, despite all of your good intentions and best efforts, it can be challenging and at times even overwhelming to try and keep up with the happenings of every artist or band you may have, at one time, had an interest in.
I had sent the message, via Twitter, toward the end of 2019—because once I began listening to Boy/Friend’s debut effort, Leather Weather, again—six years after I initially found it, somehow, through the amount of time I spent within various pockets of the internet, letting its smooth, glistening synthesizers and slinky rhythms wash over me, I had the thought I find I often have—I wonder what this person is up to.
And I am thinking about the idea, or the act, of reinvention.
Not, like, the “reinvention” that is so often synonymous with marquee names like David Bowie, or Madonna, who often drastically changed their sound, aesthetic, or both, from album to album during their most productive years—but the “reinvention” that comes from trying not to escape, or erase as much of your past as you can, but remove yourself from its narrative, and find your way into a new one.
There is the idea, then, or the act, of reintroduction.
And what I found, when I wondered exactly what Shan Poo—the artist who at one time was releasing music under the name Boy/Friend—had been up to since the release of the 2016 Sensitive Thug EP, was nothing. His Twitter account had been deleted, and all of the music featured on his Soundcloud paged had been removed.
Within some of my earliest years of music writing, I put together short pieces on Poo’s full-length, Low Key, released in 2015, and its follow-up EP, the aforementioned Sensitive Thug. And it would have been through one of those reviews—shared across social media platforms, that one of Poo’s associates began following me on Twitter, and much to my surprise, upwards of seven years later, they still do.
I had sent the message, via Twitter, toward the end of 2019. As I often begin my direct messages now with an advance apology for presumably bothering the person on the other end, this one, though, began with, “This is a little bit of a strange question,” and I went on to ask if this person knew what became of Shan Poo, who performed under the name Boy/Friend.
“I’m only asking since you were on one of his songs,” I add—this person, or rather, the name they perform under, also stylized all in capital letters, was a featured artist on one of the tunes from Low Key.
Within an hour, I received a response.
“I managed him and co-wrote the music with him,” this person told me. “He moved to L.A. Currently rebranding and releasing music under his own name in a few months.”
Then, some suspicion.
“Have we corresponded about him in the past?”
I respond by telling him—this at one-time associate (but perhaps no longer) of Poo’s that we had not, in fact, spoken about him before, and that I had written about him in the past and was curious what, if anything, he was currently doing in terms of making new music.
“I think you read a review of Low Key, and that was how you started following me on [Twitter], maybe,” I say, thanking him for the information.
“What sites were your reviews for,” he asks almost immediately.
I tell him they were featured on my own site, and give him the name.
The conversation ends.
I am thinking about the idea, or the act, of reinvention—and subsequently, the idea, and act, of reintroduction.
And I am thinking about the effort that one must put in, in the digital age, to reinvent and then reintroduce themselves—accounts to deactivate, posts to delete, all in the effort to, perhaps, create some kind of distance between who they at one time were, or perceived to be, and who they indeed are, or want to be seen as.
Initially, I thought Poo had scrubbed nearly all traces of his time as Boy/Friend from the various pockets of the internet the project once inhabited. His debut release under the name, the dreamy, sensual Leather Weather, now nine years old, is tough to find—unavailable to stream via Spotify, no longer able to be purchased through Apple Music, the songs are still floating in the ether, much to my surprise, on YouTube. And even with the deactivation of the project’s Twitter account, the erasure of his Soundcloud, and the loss of the domain “boyslashfriend.com" that he once held, Poo’s latter-day work under the moniker—one-off singles like “I Do That,” Low Key, and Sensitive Thug are more readily available, though not exactly easy to find unless you are on the trail, as I had found myself on, hoping for any clues.
And I am uncertain if the shift in the state of the world beginning in the spring of 2020 delayed Poo’s return to music in any way, but roughly a year following my brief exchange with his former co-writer and producer, assuring me that Poo would be releasing music “in a few months,” Poo—now going by his first name only, returned with the single “Palomino”; and, roughly a year after that, in October of 2021, he released the second single in the extremely gradual rollout of his reinvention and reintroduction—“Tru.”
The pace of Poo’s return surprisingly quickened this year with ribald and lusty “Ah Ha Ha,” arriving in February, and the astounding, soulful, groove-oriented “Gemini,” in June—all leading up to the very recent announcement of Poo’s debut full length under the name Shan—Palomino.
Collecting the singles released between the end of 2020 and just a few months ago, and pairing them with three additional tunes (and the obligatory album intro track), Palomino finds Shan Poo often operating from a place of jubilance and enthusiasm that wasn’t exactly absent from the output under his previous moniker, but it also was not the focus of the project. Long gone is the way he rather successfully merged the worlds of lo-fi R&B with electronically infused textures through the use of post-Weeknd gauzy synths, restrained and minimal percussive elements, often glitchy and blippy in how they sounded, finding their place within the song’s structure, and the genuine sense of heartache and longing that ran throughout a bulk of Poo’s lyricism.
And in the place of the elements that regularly made Boy/Friend a compelling project to listen to, Poo—now working with Rafa Alvarez, who produces under the name Different Sleep, as well as the production duo Wesley Singerman and Connor McElwain—is finding ways to merge a very noticeable mid to late 1990s R&B influence with a subtle, though the sharp edge of contemporary, trap-infused hip-hop. The result, still just as compelling as Poo’s previous musical identity, is earnest in its homages but original and thoughtful enough never to appear derivative—resulting in an exciting collection of songs that are, among other things, rather playful at times in their energy.
And it might be a generalization on my part, because there are certainly exceptions, but often in contemporary popular music—especially within the realm of R&B, there are two kinds of “love songs”: one that is a declaration of love, directed toward the object of the protagonist’s affection; the other is firmly rooted in remorse, or regret—reflecting on where one may have gone wrong in the wake of love’s aftermath.
Regardless of where Poo—his last name listed in Palomino’s credits as Pooviriyakul—fell between those two extremes, he, as he was able, maintained a clever sense of humor in his songwriting. I am thinking specifically of the lyrics to Leather Weather’s “Shorty on The Left,” where in an effort to impress the woman who has caught his attention, implores her to whisper the song she wants to hear played in the club because “The D.J. is my homie, baby,” he reveals before the song glides into its chorus—or the literal winking to the listener that occurs in “I Do That,” where he sings, “Let’s watch ‘Girls’ from the first episode—I love HBO, not ‘Game of Thrones,’” which is then punctuated by the bing of a chime.
Poo has not lost his sense of humor, or his ability to weave it within to his songwriting, over the last six years, and on Palomino, it appears throughout—sometimes, its extremely subtle, but other times, it is much more direct, like on the sexually charged, “Ah Ha Ha.”“That pussy so good—ah ha ha, yeah it made me laugh,” Poo croons at the beginning of the song’s chorus—which ends with the line, “So juicy—wanna take a straw and just sip ya like,” but rather than what, exactly, he wants to sip her like, the line ends with the sound of a refreshing exhale.
The feeling across a majority of Palomino’s eight tracks, though, is almost celebratory at times—there is an excitement that Poo and his collaborators have seemingly effortlessly woven into the fabric of the bulk of this material—it’s most apparent right out of the gate on the titular track, which bounces along with a palpable feeling that can only be described as sounding triumphant.
Set to a quickly paced, skittering rhythm, “Palomino” is structured around minimal additional instrumentation—it, like almost every tune included on the album, features gently strummed, clean-sounding electric guitar, and a subtle keyboard melody. The elements, when they tumble together on “Palomino,” as they do in the other exemplary moments on the record, create an absolute vibe—a kind of breezy, pure pop vibe where it becomes impossible not to, at the very least, nod your head along in time to just how infectious the song is—but because it is, simply, just so exuberant and rhythmic, it’s the kind of song you want to throw your whole body into dancing along to.
Lyrically on “Palomino,” Poo walks the line between the saccharine in his declarations of affection, while still holding onto the subtle sense of humor—a line he walks impressively and with grace. “‘Bout to take you on a trip finna change your life,” he begins as the song gets underway. “‘Cuz I know you’ve been stressed—get you off your mind. Lay your head against my chest the whole rid—don’t ask me where we’re going baby. Can’t tell you where we’re going, baby.”
And it is, in the chorus, where you may crack a slight smile at the unabashed earnestness and celebratory nature of Poo’s phrase turns, but the sentiments clearly come from the heart—“Oh baby, you’re my one and only—my homie…Love is our paradise,” he proclaims. “You in my heart—I’m never lonely, my homie, you know me.”
Later in the album, on the smoldering and surprisingly glitchy slow jam “Tru,” he returns to this balance of unabashed earnestness in sentimentality and celebration, when he sings the extremely memorable line, “Shorty changed my life—I need to wife her up.”
And I am uncertain just how much of a direct influence the aesthetic of the late 1990s and early 2000s R&B sound—think early Usher, think slow jams that feature the acoustic guitar somewhere in the mix—has on R&B or R&B adjacent genres today—over two decades later. And perhaps it is simply just me, or the way I am trying to frame the songs featured on Palomino, but throughout the album’s eight tracks, there are moments where it sounds, and feels, like Poo is doing his best to keep that sound, or aesthetic, alive—it is most noticeable in the Babyface inspired instrumentation that opens the album in the intro, “Come Around,” but it can be found elsewhere too, especially in the album’s second half.
“Repeat,” arriving at Palomino’s midway point is just as jubilant and celebratory in its subject matter as, say, the album’s titular track is, but the celebration is a little slower in terms of its tempo—not quite smoldering or a slow jam, but extremely close to that territory. Over shimmery electric guitar chords that are very deliberate in just how slowly they are strummed, and a jittery, shuffling rhythm that finds its way into the song with ease, then eventually twinkly synthesizers arriving just before the chorus, “Repeat” opens with another earnest declaration—“You’re like a present from above. Like you were made in the name of love,” Poo sings, then being his own hype man by repeating the last part of each line three times, and keeps the sentiment strong as the song reaches its chorus—“I wanna you know you, like no one knows you—then put you on repeat, like seven days a week.”
As Palomino heads into its final few songs, Poo opts to slow the electric guitar strums down even more, but picks the tempo of the skittering rhythm up on the glistening “On My Life,” which winds up being the song that, perhaps, merges both the heartfelt sentimentality of much of Poo’s lyricism throughout, with his sense of humor, and the at times sexually charged nature of the genre in general—most noticeable—it happens so quickly if you aren’t listening closely you may miss it, or not realize you’ve heard it—when Poo slides the phrase, “I’m gonna get you right—put them panties to the side,” into the end of the second chorus.
There are no bad songs, or even less successfully executed songs to be found on Palomino—even the slower, sensual groove and melody of “Ah ha ha,” regardless of how horny of a song it may be, commands your body to move. Still, the album is more or less bookend by its strongest material. And if Palomino opens with its most joyous sounding tune, it closes with a song that is not so much the inverse of it thematically—it is still celebratory and highly sentimental, but it approaches the subject with the most densely arranged track of the set. “Gemini,” the final advance single release from the album, is by far its high-water mark, and it is also undoubtedly one of the finest songs of 2022.
The thing about “Gemini,” at least in how it is orchestrated, is that there is, truthfully, no more going on in it than other songs on the album—it is just that everything sounds a little more robust in comparison. The drum programming, specifically, is the one place on Palomino where the beat isn’t glitchy or somewhat minimalistic or sparse in how it finds its place within the song; here, there is an unrelentingness to the kind of traditional kick/snare pattern it uses (albeit heavily affected sounding), a technique that creates additional depth to the song, right from the moment it begins.
Within that rhythm, the guitar—casually strummed and very naturally flanged across both channels, along with a thick, groove-oriented bass line underneath it all, take their respective places within the structure of the song. Still, it’s Poo’s vocals, and precisely the way he delivers them, that ultimately steer the song, and continue to stir it into what it becomes.
In the song’s verses, he kind of coasts along above it all, quietly sharing his final heartfelt declarations in the album’s last song—“I can take vacation in your eyes,” he croons. “Cool me down like white wine over ice.” But it is in what is commonly, in songwriting, referred to as the “pre-chorus,” when Poo begins to use the deliberately paced and measured way his vocals tumble out into the music to really take control. It’s astounding to hear as it's happening.
“Full attention with nothing on—fall asleep with the TV on,” Poo continues with the pace picking up in his voice. “When I tell you that nothing’s wrong ain’t no need to hold back. I wanna be your favorite song. I can be there to calm the storm. Read my like the way you read my palm—you’re my queen, you know that.”
From there, the song takes off—still operating from the place of musical restraint built from when “Gemini” began, but it takes off, or at least lifts itself higher thanks to the atmospheric effects and higher range that Poo sings the chorus in, confessing—“Yeah, my life was wrong before you came around,” spacing the words out in pairs, giving each of them the space to land before adding the next. “No, my life was wrong before you touched the ground.”
And there is a beauty to it all—a surprising one. It’s simply hypnotic in the way the elements are stirred to create something you are compelled to move your body to within moments of its beginning. And even if it is, at its core, a “love song,” or at least a song directed at someone whom the protagonist is in a romantic relationship with, there is something borderline melancholic or somber about the way it is all presented—in the restraint, or the slight tension created that Poo never really lets go of. We feel the rhythm pulsating through us like a second heartbeat, commanding that we move our body, but never completely lose ourselves to it.
We feel the love, or we recognize it, but there is something else, difficult to articulate, that continues to tug at us gently.
And what I had forgotten was the message—or response, rather, that I had sent via Instagram.
This would have been upwards of two years ago now, when Poo reemerged and released “Palomino”—the first single issued under his own name. The only social media presence he has now (I think) is through Instagram, and I responded to one of his Stories regarding the song’s release.
“I used to fuck with your stuff when you were Boy/Friend,” I told him. “And I’m really glad you’ve returned.”
And often, when you reply to the story of someone you follow, but who does not follow you in return, I am uncertain what, exactly, becomes of your message—if it finds itself in the “message requests” tab, or if it actually makes its way into the inbox proper.
And what I had forgotten was the message—or response, rather, that I had sent via Instagram.
To my surprise, Poo responded. “Man, Kevin, you don’t understand how much that means to me,” he said. “Been doing a lot of growing but I am here to stay now. Appreciate this message!”
I was about halfway through writing this piece—about Palomino itself, but also about the ideas of reinvention and reintroduction, when I sent another message to Poo, asking if he would be willing to speak at all about both the decision he made to step away from music—as a performer at least, and then his return, leading up to the release of the album.
“I wanted to just be a songwriter,” he responded. “And write for bigger artists in L.A. Decided I had a calling. I had to be an artist again—for multiple reasons. I didn’t want an alter ego anymore. I just want to fully embody me.”
And I find that I am thinking about both the idea of reinvention and reintroduction. About what it feels like to walk away from something—not to erase that part of yourself. No. Not quite. But to leave that part of you as much in the past as you are able to.
I am thinking about what it means, eventually, to find your way back from what you walked away from, returning on more authentic terms.
Palomino is all too brief of an album—spanning just a little over 20 minutes; it runs no risk of overstaying its welcome. It is the kind of collection of songs you want to continue, at least for a little bit longer, though that is, simply, the demands we put on artists talking. More than anything else, as both a fan, and an analytical listener, I am grateful it exists, and that Poo has taken the time he needed to reinvent himself, and reintroduce himself to both a new audience, and those who have tried their best to follow his output since the beginning.
In his message to me two years ago, after the release of “Palomino,” Poo mentioned he had been doing a lot of growing—presumably both personally, as well as a singer and songwriter. And you can hear that growth when listening to Palomino, and then going back into his output as Boy/Friend. There is a noticeable and impressive depth and use of dynamism in his voice now that was not lacking before, but he has taken the time to develop more.
Palomino is sensual, yes, but it is also wildly fun and extremely thoughtful in both how it approaches the idea of genre and the “love song” within the genre—spilling over with an excitement you can feel, it is a record that, for as much as it is about reinvention and reintroduction, is also reinvigorating as it washes over you.