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Dresses' Irresistible Pop

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"BLEW MY MIND" begins simply enough: Jared Ryan Maldonado strums an easy acoustic guitar as Timothy Heller finds a melody above it in a high, crystalline voice. But what starts as a coffeehouse folk shuffle expands into a compulsively catchy pop number with a chorus that's impossible to shake.

When Dresses' debut song appeared online earlier this year, it was a fitting but still slightly mysterious introduction to the Portland duo. They hadn't played any live shows yet; there was little more to go on than the charming video clip of the two playing the song in a basement, point-blank for the camera. Heller—yes, her actual first name is Timothy, and yes, she was born a girl, and yes, now that you're thinking about it, Timothy is a pretty cool name for a girl—possesses a voice that's immediately recognizable, a sweet chirrup that conceals, then reveals greater depths.

Sun Shy is similarly pliant and wide ranging. Dresses' debut album falls assuredly under the umbrella of pop, but Maldonado and Heller find a remarkable amount of range, taking turns on vocals for the slumber-party bounce of "Sun Shy" and the sugarcoated but not saccharine "Gotta Love." They also find room for introspection on "Back to Life" and the darker, heavier "Friends Are Dead," making Sun Shy an impressive and immediately likeable debut.

Heller and Maldonado wrote "Blew My Mind" the first day they met. The two both grew up in Portland but went to different high schools before making a connection over Facebook. A songwriting partnership was struck; a romantic relationship followed a few months later. While the pair collaborates, they recognize each other's strengths.

"I'm still getting used to writing with Jared," Heller says, "just because I feel like I can focus when I'm by myself. There are ways that we're each good at writing, and we shouldn't force ourselves to try to mix them in a song. It's hard for me to write a song that isn't about what I'm actually thinking. It's hard for me to make up a plot. And you're kind of good at that," she says to Maldonado.

"Half the time, I like to come up with a story," he says. "I write personal songs, too, but Timothy's really good at bringing in the personal side. We both have different ways of singing and speaking and writing, so it's kind of cool to be able to include both."

Sun Shy was recorded partly in Portland and partly in LA with producer Trevor Dahl (Plug in Stereo), a friend of Maldonado's from high school. Heller and Maldonado then formed a live band to play the songs—they toured with Kate Nash earlier this year—and LA label SideOneDummy has released the album digitally (a physical release will come in October). Even for the famously diverse label—which has released albums by Flogging Molly, Gogol Bordello, and Broadway Calls—Dresses' explicit pop was an unconventional choice.

"It was just the fact that they were all really passionate about it, and it's really different than anything that's on their label," says Maldonado. "It shows me that they have enough faith in us to go out on a limb and sign this poppier band that maybe half of their current fanbase will think, 'Fuck that.'"

Heller adds, "We said, 'We don't sound like this,' and they said, 'That's fine. We like that you're different.'"

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