(Songs of the Mothership, released Fri 20 May 2016)
While his first release Darker Days easily fell victim to Elliott Smith comparisons, 2012’s sleeper hit The Bearer of Bad News found Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf maturing as a songwriter with a knack for creating richly thought-out characters and paying greater attention to the arrangements of his songs.
With The Party, Shauf has built on the strengths of his previous album to create his most assured and focused work yet. Released in May last year, Shauf once again produces the album, as well as recording the majority of the instruments himself.
While still sounding reminiscent of Smith, Shauf seems to be channeling the likes of James Taylor and Harry Nilsson with a collection of gorgeously arranged folk rock songs, all thematically linked to the concept of a night at a party.
The party in question is inhabited by a group of deeply flawed individuals struggling with their inner thoughts and conflicts, which Shauf uses to explore issues ranging from love, lust, jealousy, social anxiety and death, to mention but a few. The storytelling on the album is rich and complex, with characters that are as colourful and fully realised as any from a Robert Altman film.
If the sheer quality of storytelling on show isn’t enough, the production on the album is an absolute delight. The album feels warm and welcoming, with the piano, guitar and drums softly carrying the songs along, while the string section swirls in and out of the songs, making it a grand yet intimate affair.
With a flutter of keys and alluring strings, the album opens with piano ballad The Magician. Early to the Party introduces a guest overwrought with anxiety, whose early arrival is somehow turned into a maudlin tragedy of sorts, while Quite Like You follows a party-goer’s drunken attempts to win over his best friend’s ex, only to unwittingly lead her back into the arms of his friend. Just as the album teeters on the edge of becoming a series of schmaltzy disaster stories, Shauf throws a curve-ball with standout track Alexander All Alone. Following a party-goer who suddenly dies after going outside to have his last ever cigarette, the song has a quietly menacing groove that arouses thoughts of 90s grunge, as opposed to the 70s soft rock of the rest of the album.
While Shauf firmly remains in his comfort zone throughout and rarely treads new ground, the album is so well-rounded and never outstays its welcome that it’s hard to begrudge him for it. Crafting extremely well observed, neatly-wound pop songs, it’s by far his strongest work to date, and hopefully promises the best is yet to come.