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Andy Shauf – ‘The Neon Skyline’: Album Review

4/5: ‘One of the best radio friendly albums DJ’s wont play’

Andy Shauf is an introspective singer, songwriter. One I am ashamed to say has taken me 10 years to discover, but here we are. In travelling through his discography, it is made apparent that time has done Shauf favours. Each record sounds more crafted as he progresses, and this is no exception. The clever alliterations and impressive juxtapositions shadow one like Paul Simon. The melodies and double tracked vocals to 70s power pop and Elliott Smith. Yet there is a modern shine on the production that moves it away from being outdated or unoriginal. He brings to the table a breezy 35 minutes of engaging, intimate and conceptual vignettes. Those following his night out with some friends and a troublesome ex girlfriend. He is for the reasons above a foot ahead of many contemporaries in the singer songwriter field. 

This is made apparent from the opening and title cut. We are dropped into a narrative about Shauf’s preparation and trip to the local bar. Here Shauf introduces us to some characters who are going to be familiar throughout the next 10 tracks. Charlie – His close friend who he drinks with; Rose – The bar lady who he is pre-eminent to ; and Judy – A remote ex lover who he misses greatly. Here it is made clear that he drinks to clear his mind of thoughts of Judy. The negative effects of alcoholism step forward. Rose doesn’t ask for his order anymore (as she knows what he wants). He takes a defensive approach about being considered an alcoholic. This however, is proven true later in ‘The Moon’ when Judy states ‘I knew exactly where you’d be’ (in reference to the bar). The meticulous detail to the neurochemistry of the alcohol filled brain showcases just how well thought out Shauf is. The track is instrumentally breezy and major, inverting the lyrical topic on it’s head. Similarly to many cuts on the album, this gives the structure a 1960s feel.

The record flows seamlessly without any need to skip. Each track makes a foggy picture clearer. On the track ‘Where Are You Judy?’ We are told Judy is back in town. This being over a backdrop of (what sounds like) drooping oboe and guitar. Really A+ on the inventive instrument choice. On hearing a phone ring, Shauf goes into a fantasy of Judy calling him. He muses on how he’d ask where she is now? And enjoy hearing her ‘talking to my left ear’.

Pinched back to reality on ‘Clove Cigarette’. Shauf’s protagonist is diverted by the smell of Rose’s cigarette. A commonly craved pairing with a beverage so no surprise. He takes a romantic take on its classiness describing it as ‘like summer’. It evokes images of B girls in old film noirs. Shauf isn’t a stranger to this topic, but makes his strongest effort at it to date. He manages to make such a simple track an enjoyable walk in the park.

A favourite of mine, ‘Thirteen Hours’ discusses a petty fight over money. Here Judy flips out over Shauf giving a taxi driver too small of a tip. This esculates into her running back, getting knocked over by a car and breaking bones. With their trip home now being delayed Shauf is blamed by Judy from hospital. Her reasoning being if he wasn’t a cheapskate she’d be home. The track moves from an easy going acoustic guitar and drums piece, to this spectacular distorted electric solo that wouldn’t be out of place on The Beatles ‘White Album’. It ends very abruptly. Shauf could get away with building this to a more dramatic, climatic close but nevertheless it is impressive and one of the best songs on the album.

The more lyrical gems of this record come by the mid point. The track ‘Living Room’ discusses a new character, Claire (who joins the bar). She talks about psychological trauma from childhood and how it has affected her now. She drew a picture for her dad when at school. He disregarded it, instead asking her to ‘show it to your mother’. She mirrors this in a situation where her son drew her a picture and she disregarded it. This gives the listener a very introspective, and often overlooked view on a childs mind compared to an adults.

On ‘Dust Kids’, Shauf battles with the topic of reincarnation. Shauf discusses young children having near death experiences (documented in books) that would change his view on the topic. He tells us about a dream he had where he was shot and started rising before sinking. This could be a subconscious reflection on his altering views on death. Again a lot to unpack. Lovely.

These ruminating tracks are interrupted by ‘The Moon’ and ‘Try Again’. In these Judy enters the bar. Awkward engagemenets are followed between the two. Shauf shows another skill here. Both these tracks include tongue and cheek humour to the rejection of Shauf’s protagonist.

 ‘She says “I’ve missed this”. 

I say “I’ve missed you too”. 

She says “I was actually talking about your coat”. 

In these cuts it is made obvious that Judy has moved on and relationship chances are futile. The final two tracks present a depressing end to the night. A few repetitive choruses fall into the mix slightly detaching the sheer quality of the first nine tracks. For example, ‘Fire Truck’ has a chorus made up of ‘Doo doo doo doo’ that seems a little out of place from the rest of the track. 

The closing track ‘Changer’ is the least memorable track on the record, making it a not as grand moment of finality it could’ve been. Although I do appreciate the lazy, country sliding guitars, it is definetely lacking in a slap in the flace close. These tracks aren’t detracting by a huge margin. They are made up for by the clever lyricism lined in the verses so it is really just a nitpick.

This is an impeccable record that I find very hard to fault. Shauf has set himself a very high boundry, making this one of the best radio friendly albums DJ’s wont play. By that I mean it doesn’t require intimate attention as the melodies hold up for themselves. With lyrical attention, it just gets better. I love it.

Standout Tracks: ‘Neon Skyline’, ‘Where Are You Judy?’, ‘Clove Cigarette’, ‘Thirteen Hours’, ‘Things I Do’, ‘Living Room’, ‘Dust Kids’, ‘The Moon’.

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