Sometimes it feels like there are just too many singer songwriters, many of them offering a listening experience that only magnifies personal anxiety and agony. And it’s important that artists dare to go deeper into these places—the power of music isn’t always in creating something that feels good, necessarily, but makes us feel less alone. But sometimes, it’s nice to have a singer songwriter who you’d feel you can crack open a (cheap) beer with. No requirement of deep personal examination, just an expectation to kick back. With his latest, Neon Skyline, Andy Shauf creates a storyboard for us to step into and unwind. Listening like a fireside chat, Shauf’s version of storytelling is warm and comforting, full of appreciating the little, funny dynamics between people as they navigate their own lives.
Hailing from a small Canadian town, Shauf paints a perfect picture of the quirks that occur in tiny dive bars, like the one providing the setting of Skyline. The lyrics of Shauf’s songs set up a short story that takes place within the tavern, one of Shauf setting up camp at a comforting barstool, upholstered with his nostalgia as he reflects over beers with his friend Charlie. Throughout the album, Shauf makes a point of quoting others, never sticking to the perspective of one solitary narrator. If anything, much of this inner dialogue is a self critique, badgering himself to change his habits.
Musically, Shauf shows continued growth on Neon Skyline, creating charming melodies that only become richer with the addition of clarinets and oboes. On his 2016 release The Party, Shauf crafted a beautiful, cohesive album embroidered with similar arrangements. This time, the musicianship becomes more intricate, with complex rhythms, a stronger jazz influence, and a heavy touch of classic Laurel Canyon sound. Shauf draws on the nostalgic sounds of influential singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne, retreating deeper into the past as the album traces themes of nostalgia as the protagonist encounters an old flame.
On “The Moon,” a charming acoustic ballad, Shauf’s friend Charlie asks, “Did you drag me off of my couch so we could sit here in silence until we say goodnight?” In a tender way, it’s a humble moment for Shauf to admit it’s more bearable to tackle sadness with a friend, even if you’re too bummed to speak. There’s no bigger metaphor or complicated story, Shauf simply tells us of his night and the memories he remembers in the company of familiar friends and bartenders, accompanied by cute, memorable guitar riffs that are even a little danceable. It’s an easy album to warm up to, a familiar story we can cozy up with, as Shauf opens up about a universal experience—a night we’ve all had before.