I came across Andy Shauf’s excellent The Party on one of those layabout Friday evenings where a couple stouts were enjoyed and a homemade pizza pie was built to perfection. It’s kind of a regular Friday evening thing around here. Anyways, I’d posted a review of the great new Beach Fossils record Somersault and my good pal Aaron from way up north told me I should look up Tuns. Tuns is a supergroup consisting of Chris Murphy of Sloan, Mike O’Neil of the Inbreds, and Matt Murphy of the Super Friendz. It was a solid lead to some seriously great power pop. I’ve been a fan of Sloan for 20 years now, having been introduced to them by Much Music in the mid-90s. I found quite a few great bands from the land of Rush and the McKenzie Brothers back then, including Big Sugar, Odds, and of course Sloan. I felt like this whole other world of amazing musicians had been hidden from me by an overwhelmingly evil American music system. Why did I not know of these bands sooner? Where was Much Music when I needed it in the early 90s? Why so many rhetorical questions?
Well this all leads to me stumbling across a guy named Andy Shauf. As I was perusing Tuns videos on Youtube and waxing nostalgic about those exciting early days of Much Music I came across a video for Andy Shauf’s “Early To The Party”. He came up as something like-minded to Tuns, so with a bit of a beer buzz I decided to jump into the wormhole.
I was immediately pulled into Shauf’s melancholy musical world that felt like it was part Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, Randy Newman’s Sail Away, and midnight listens of Michael Penn’s Untitled after a funeral carry-in meal. It was both nostalgic and alien to my ears, like some sentient being attempting to make sad power pop after receiving transmissions in deep space of old Lenny Waronker-produced albums like Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle and Randy Newman’s 12 Songs. Shauf’s voice sounds timid and fragile as he sings about trying to win the affections of a good friend’s ignored girlfriend, or the weird goings on at a party. But for me there isn’t a more exquisite and regal opening as “The Magician”. It’s built eloquently on loping piano, tasteful strings, and clarinet with a fuzzy guitar line for good measure. Lyrically it’s this juxtaposition of the idea of the magician doing these tricks to amaze and astound us, but is really just winging it each time, hoping things will work out. Sort of like the rest of us. “Just a shaking hand, without a concrete plan” he sings over this sublime musical concoction. Probably one of the best tracks I’ve heard in a long time. It takes something like this song for me to remember how much I truly used to love that 70s singer/songwriter stuff.
“Early To The Party” has a video for it that’s one of the best videos I’ve seen in years. Lyrically Shauf sounds like an unsure loner, showing up to the gathering before everyone else(much to the host’s chagrin.) “Early to the party, You’re the first one there/Overdressed and underprepared” Shauf sings over a hypnotic musical build that feels like Michael Penn at his very best. “Twist Your Ankle” is another melancholy pop gem that feels like an introvert’s anthem(“Wish I’d just stayed home“.) I don’t know if Shauf is this timid and unsure in his real life, but on record he comes across as one disappointment away from an emotional breakdown.
I think what hits me so hard is that I completely relate to his characters’ lack of confidence and social awkwardness. I wasn’t a mingler or “party dude” when I was younger. Crowds made me uncomfortable, and trying to keep up with social norms just made me ill. Fortunately I had a tight knit group of friends and a girlfriend that appreciated my insular ways so I never became some lonely, bearded guy in an apartment fantasizing about the next season of my favorite show. But I can appreciate the loner’s struggle I hear in Andy Shauf’s songs on The Party.
According to the internet, Andy Shauf was a drummer in a Canadian Christian pop punk band called Captain(sounds like a Kids In The Hall skit.) He also played Christian music with his parents as a kid. The guy plays everything, and on The Party he performed all the music. He’s a pretty stellar clarinet player and he uses it quite a bit on this record, tastefully I might add. On earlier records his vocals sounded unique, but not as effected as they do on this album. There’s some sort of accent in there, but I’m not sure what it is. He sounds like Wreckless Eric trying to be quiet during church service. It only adds more emotional depth to the songs.
Honestly, there isn’t a bad spot on The Party. From start to finish it’s a beautifully crafted piece of singer/songwriter fare. Andy Shauf hits all the right notes(metaphorically and literally.) Fans of bands like Jellyfish, Michael Penn, Owsley, Red Kross, Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, and Wondermints would find something to love and hold dear on this record. Shauf also taps into something specific for me. It’s this aged, 70s vibe that I can’t get enough of. Key parties, stoned afterschool conversations in your best friend’s basement lounging on bean bag chairs, faux wood trim in boat-size Oldsmobiles that take you to and from the local arcade, and late night card games with the haze of cigarette smoke hanging just below the globe-shaped dining room light fixture. The 70s were many things in my head, but the aforementioned defines that decade for me.
So does Andy Shauf’s The Party.
Thanks Much Music, thanks Aaron, and happy 150th Canada.