With 2015’s self-recorded and highly acclaimed The Bearer of Bad News, Andy Shauf put himself firmly on the musical map, playing all the instruments and recording the album single-handedly. Barely more than a year later, here he is with The Party, his debut release for ANTI- and it’s a very impressive thing. As I write, Shauf is quite deservedly being exposed to a wider audience, supporting The Lumineers on their current European tour.
The Bearer of Bad News was four years in the making but I’m pleased to say that The Party is every bit as lovingly-crafted and, musically, picks up where Bad News left off. The record’s hazy soundworld is heavily informed by The Beatles and Jellyfish but he’s too cool to give himself over to pure pop bounciness. Instead, Shauf presents a downbeat vocal intimacy and a songwriting melancholy more associated with the likes of Elliot Smith. It’s an interesting and beguiling juxtaposition: daring, spacious arrangements awash with clarinets, strings and piano are the backdrop to a set of mumbled but acerbic character studies, told with a shyness that is impenetrable and endearing all at once.
There is a great deal of languid, McCartney-esque piano plodding here. It’s as if this is the fall-back position for the whole record and its effect is to slow the listener down, forcing the focus onto each of Shauf’s bittersweet vignettes. It’s a record that isn’t afraid to take its time but the arrangements are so rich that, from the listener point of view, you don’t feel as if yours is being at all wasted.
Current single ‘The Magician’ is the album’s opener and has a wonderfully trippy cut-and-paste animated video which pays equal tribute to ‘60s pop art and Peter Gabriel’s classic Sledgehammer. The song itself has a beautiful string arrangement, off-kilter pulsing keyboards and perfectly flung splashes of fuzz guitar. Thus the scene is set for ‘Early to the Party’ where we start to get the concept of the album as a whole, which conjures all of the emotions familiar to those who fear social gatherings: intimidation, isolation, disdain, cynicism. At other points it distils the positives of party-going too: intrigue, intoxication and, of course, the adventures and misadventures of romance.
So there’s plenty to be discovered at The Party. For me personally, the high points include ‘Twist Your Ankle’, which has a slightly more modern feel, its dreamy double-tracked harmonies putting me in mind of Bon Iver; ‘Begin Again’, which descends unashamedly into a reverb-drenched two chord refrain, perversely homaging ‘A Day in the Life’ while serving as the song’s anti-chorus; the summery Brian Wilson bliss-fest that is ‘Worst in You’ and finally the delicate confessional of the album closer ‘Martha Sways’.
The Party has enough musical magic to get your attention first time around but also has the lyrical depth to be more revealing and rewarding with each subsequent listen. I suspect it’s the sort of party that never really ends, in a good way. My advice to you is to choose your outfit carefully and secure yourself an invitation...
Review by Rich Barnard.