Andy Schauf is a master storyteller. That much was clear after the release of 2016’s Party, which followed the experiences of several different attendees of the same house party with a wry, observational wit. His newest album The Neon Skyline centres instead around a fictional bar – the aforementioned “Neon Skyline” – and the characters who frequent it. Schauf’s lyrics build a rich narrative of longing in the city night: of cigarette smoke, cold cans of beer, old lovers back in town and a lingering sense of regret mixed in with the old comfort of familiar faces and routines. Certainly melancholic, but not without its fair share of humour. ‘Try Again’ is an upbeat ditty that perfectly captures all the awkwardness of bumping into an old girlfriend at your town’s dive bar: “She puts her hand on the sleeve of my coat. She says I’ve missed this,” Schauf sings, and then continues “I say “I know, I’ve missed you too.” She says, “I was actually talking about your coat”.” It is Shauf’s marvellous empathy that makes him such a deft storyteller as well as a songwriter. He manipulates the listener’s expectations as adeptly as he manipulates the characters he creates and his careful compositions often leave the listener in a state of suspense, with the sense of a story left unfinished.
The Neon Skyline is not a short story set to music, but rather a series of eleven carefully composed snapshots. It would perhaps be easy to let the album pass you by in a pleasant, guitar-led haze: each song shifts almost imperceptibly into the next, and there’s no real clear moment of climax or tension. The arrangements are for the most part incredibly simple, which might surprise fans of Shauf’s previous more elaborate compositions. But this simplicity is profoundly intentional, and on further listening reveals itself to be what really defines this record. That being said, the notably jazzier and more complex ‘Thirteen Hours’ is certainly a stand out track on the album.
As usual, Shauf wrote, performed, arranged, and produced every song on the album. This time he set out with the intention of creating an album that could be played almost entirely on guitar, without the need to rely on further arrangements to make it a whole. Whilst the simplicity of the arrangement allows the pure poetry of Shauf’s lyrics to really come to the fore, at the heart of the album there’s a determined celebration of the simple things in life. In this case, a Cheers-esque dive bar, “where everyone knows your name”. As Shauf affirms on opening track ‘Neon Skyline’, “Oh I’m just fine, I’m wasting time, sometimes there’s no better feeling than that.” Sometimes simple is more than enough.
Live: Shepherd’s Bush Empire on April 8th
Photo credit: Colin Medley