- by Nathan Fidler Rating:10 Release Date:2016-05-20 Label:
When you see the organic growth of an artist it’s always pretty gratifying. Unspoiled by pressure, demands and pigeonholing, Andy Shauf has flourished, from his self-recorded Darker Days album to Waiting for the Sun to Leave, then, only last year, he stepped it up a notch with the majestic The Bearer of Bad News. Now, under a new label, he brings another captivating, understated effort in The Party.
If you follow the albums through their natural progression, it's clear Shauf has figured out for himself that the neatly packaged, often gloomily-tinged tales of small town folk are where his forte lies. The Party takes you around all those recognisable scenes and characters you’ve seen, heard of and even embodied yourself at a party.
Much like Raymond Carver’s short stories, Shauf encapsulates the gravity of human life in the ordinary moments. Things which might not mean much in the grand scheme of planet Earth are heartbreaking and world-ending for the characters.
‘Quite Like You’ dances through a soft and sweet melody, but shows the narrating character secretly yearning for his friend’s girlfriend, who he tries to win over, only for that final, simple but devastating line (too good to spoil here). Much like the closing tracks on his last album, ‘Begin Again’ follows up that little vignette as a double act, with one character comparing the size of the town to dinner plate in biting exchanges.
Progressing from the folky introspection of old, if you were going to put a genre on this it might be chamber pop; intelligent story-telling, catchy melodies and excellently composed musicianship. Strings swell, horns bleat and ‘Twist Your Ankle’ even features a jazzy piano which perfectly reflects a mimicking tone for the purpose of the story.
Even when not playing things quite as cut and dry as a on the normal conversation tracks, there is still so much to enjoy and read from. ‘The Magician’ is ode to the people who hide themselves at parties behind a veneer “Look close, see him sweat the most, each time his options disappear, just a shaking hand without a concrete plan”.
All of this is even more impressive when you realise everything, bar the strings, is written and played by Shauf. Created in such a short amount of time, there has never been something so beautiful to listen to, it bears repeat listens especially, allowing you to hinge on every detail of each song, like the unpicking of the depression of the narrator in ‘Martha Sways’, as he dances with a girl only to find his mind dogged by a former love "Martha stands, pretty just like you".
It’s a sombre listen, but where the lyrics might express harrowing moments or paranoid thoughts, it’s made complete by the accompanying music. You must listen to this over and over. Let it all seep into your bones and you’ll find yourself singing along “listen to this half-wit, spilling his guts after a bottle of wine”.