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Friday, May 17, 2024

An Earful: Introducing Andy Shauf


Saskatchewan musician builds an introvert’s world in his album “The Party”

Music, like black coffee, is an acquired taste. It isn’t easy to swallow, but it’s manageable if the flavors are rich and the undertones are subtle. And though I’m a frequent believer (and consumer) of “no room for cream,” singer-songwriter Andy Shauf was the musical equivalent of drinking my first bitter brew.

The Saskatchewan musician has been making and releasing music since 2009, but his talent went largely unrecognized until the 2016 release of his album The Party. An ingenious conceptual album above all else, The Party is a real-time walk through of a party from an introvert’s perspective.

The album kicks off with “Magician,” a track that is all too real for anyone who’s ever felt alone among a crowd: “Oh fools, / the magician bends the rules / as the crowd watches his every move / Just a shaking hand without a concrete plan.” A short song with only a few lines and a chorus of Shauf’s “doo doo doo,” this track sets the mood for what follows: a long and heart-tugging journey.

After the opening track, “Early to the Party” addresses exactly what the title suggests — coping with the awkwardness of arriving too early: “You’re the first one there / overdressed and underprepared / standing in the kitchen / stressing out the host.” This song is also the listener’s first introduction to Shauf’s multi-instrumental sound. The collection of delicate drums, fireside acoustics, prominent bass lines and echoing clarinets melt into Shauf’s melancholy world, leaving listeners heavy-hearted and breathless.

A heartbreaking tale of rejection, “To You” blurs the already ambiguous

boundaries between love and friendship. The song’s main character approaches one of the album’s recurring characters, Jeremy, and dares to confess some muddled feelings: “Sometimes when I’m by your side / It feels just right / It feels like nothing could go wrong.” Written from the primary character’s perspective, we are left wondering Jeremy’s response. But the rejection is immediately made obvious: “Oh get over yourself / I’m not in love with you / It just came out all wrong.” Though the speaker denies being in love, it’s uncertain if it was truly a product of drunken speech, or a declaration of love. The heaviness of the rejection remains powerful nonetheless, and is only heightened by the progressive intensity of clarinets.

But the chorus of clarinets — featured throughout the album — aren’t easy to fall in love with. In contrast to Shauf’s soft and easy melodies, the clarinets initially feel out of place and deliberately contrived. But they eventually grew on me. Just like what once puckered my cheeks and had me reaching for creamer, I now find smooth and soothing.

With each flux of the chorus, “Why am I even surprised / That it never / feels like that to you,” the clarinets swell, sounding different in each context. The first time, quiet and timid, the clarinets backdrop the character’s request to talk: “I have something to get off my chest / But if I wait / I might never tell you.” They grow loud and ominous following the rejection, giving sharp punctures to each word from “Oh get over yourself / I’m not in love with you.”

Journeying through the rest of the album, you will find the speaker hitting on a friend’s ex (“Quite Like You”), another character that dies from smoking too many cigarettes (“Alexander All Alone”) and the self-deprecating contemplations of “Worst in You.”

Dancing, heartbreak, humiliation — the night’s events have all the necessities for a memorable party. And although the abundance of emotions make it diffic­­­­ult to digest, I don’t mind; I can sustain myself on lattes and cappuccinos, but nine times out of ten I’m drinking it black.
Written by: Ally Overbay — arts@theaggie.org


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