'Unexpectedly poignant and charming'
Zach Hughes
17:47 20th January 2020

More about:

Andy Shauf is no stranger to a concept album. In 2016, he released his breakthrough record, The Party, which was drew inspiration from different attendees of a party. The Saskatchewan-raised musician established himself as an artist with a concrete knack for creating immersive and enriched characters through his lyricism. 

For Toronto-based Shauf’s fifth album, The Neon Skyline, we follow him on an evening with friends at a bar in his local city. Over the course of the album’s narrative, Shauf discovers his ex-girlfriend is back in town and (to little surprise) she eventually shows up. On the surface, this may sound like a relatively mundane affair. However, the resultant album is actually an unexpectedly poignant and charming exploration on everything from relationships and destructive cycles, to reincarnation and the ability to move on. 

In a continuation of his craft, Andy Shauf wrote, produced and performed every track on The Neon Skyline. Departing from the piano-centric sound of its predecessor, the composition puts the guitar front and centre. There are two key aspects that elevate the overarching folk-rock aesthetic of the album. The presence of Shauf’s clarinet playing on tracks like ‘Thirteen Hours’ and ‘Where Are You Judy’ introduces a jazzy warmth and depth that reminds me of Tom Waits’ Closing Time. The second addition is the use of Shauf’s spring reverb pedal for his guitar, which creates an entirely welcome psychedelic dimension to the playing, particularly on the closing track ‘Changer’. 

What makes this a cut above album, though, is the richness of the lyrics, which take those fleeting moments of conversation in life and creates beautiful reflections on the human condition. A sense of journey is established early-on in the opening track, as Shauf encourages his friend Charlie (and the listener) to join him at the local bar, where he’ll be “washing his sins away”. When Charlie does eventually join him, Shauf offers an afterthought to which everyone can relate, singing, “I’m [just] wasting time… sometimes there’s no better feeling than that.” 

Shauf’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend Judy is dissected throughout the record, alongside the processes we all go through when experiencing a reunion with a past lover. On ‘Fire Truck’, after riling his ex, Shauf surmises that, "sometimes I feel like I should never speak again”. It’s an articulation on the type of toe-curling cringe that anyone who’s ever had an alcohol-induced conversation with an ex is likely able to relate to.

It’s these recurrent musings that underline the accessible poignance of the album. On ‘The Living Room’, after listening to his friend Claire discuss her own repetition of a bad parenting habit that’s been passed on from her father, Shauf and Charlie reflect that it feels like they had “accidentally walked into some stranger’s living room”. As a listener, this is often how it feels as you venture your way through the album. 

Shauf has a brilliant ability to create a wholesome narrative that is rich with colourful and complex characters. The Neon Skyline makes you passenger to a bunch of strangers on a night out in Toronto. The outcome is a charming observation of life’s subtler moments of humanity. 

The Neon Skyline is released on 24 January 2020 on ANTI-. 

More about: