by Julia Leiby
Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf’s May album The Party is a masterful work with a compelling narrative about youth and heartbreak. The Party is Shauf’s debut on Anti- Records, after his previous album The Bearer of Bad News, and tells the tale of a party and the small secrets revealed and social mishaps occurring in a single evening. The songs, which feature all instruments arranged by Shauf except strings by Colin Nealis, have a cinematic, quiet beauty to them, with layers of keys, trumpet, guitar and softly pounding drums. The album starts off with Shauf’s story of an outsider to the party trying his best to impress the crowd (‘The Magician’). Shauf asks, “Do you find it gets as little easier each time you make it disappear?” The songs are simply spellbinding and as the album goes on, the listener gets drawn into the story.
It is not often that one finds all their friends (and fellow musicians) are effusive in their praise for an album, but The Party certainly deserves these accolades. Some characters that appear on the album are awkward early-comers to the party (‘Early to the Party’), a man who tries to make a pass at his recently dumped friend (‘Quite Like You’) and a man professing his unrequited love for his friend (‘To You’). Shauf’s characters are utterly human and flawed, and this vulnerability makes the record all the more memorable and relatable. The last five tracks in particular seamlessly flow into each other, in their tales of love gone wrong, drunken confessions, and people entrancing and attracting each other.
‘To You’, which was one of three songs Shauf recently performed at an NPR Tiny Desk Concert, is a standout, as the character confronts his friend quietly and says haltingly, ”Sometimes when I’m by your side/ it feels so right / it feels like nothing could go wrong,’ and then later backpedals, regretting his words, as his friend rejects him.
The closing track ‘Martha Sways’ features the simplest instrumentation, with acoustic guitar and then later strings, as a man dances with a woman who reminds him of an old flame. As the party is ending and people are starting to shake off the buzz and haze of the night, he dances with this apparition-like woman but knows it’s not meant to be. “I look at the lights/dancing in her eyes/and I wanna die/ dancing in her eyes,” Shauf croons wistfully, steeped in sorrow. ‘Martha Sways’ is a bittersweet love song and a perfect closer to a stellar, mesmerizing record.