For many, a move to a major label would herald a big leap forward into unknown territory. For Andy Shauf on his major label debut The Party, it isn’t a case of reinvention but a continuation down the same path.
Recorded in his home province of Saskatchewan, The Party certainly has a lot more sparkle than 2015’s The Bearer of Bad News. More Elliott Smith than Harry Nilsson, the occasional flourishes on The Party‘s predecessor are replaced here with a full production. That little bit extra is no more obvious than on opener ‘The Magician’. As introduction’s go, it’s hard to beat. Shauf’s penchant for lush and well-arranged instrumentation shines through in the track’s four minutes of mellow pop. Strings and piano add a seventies feel while some fuzz guitar furthers Shauf’s psychedelia.
The album loosely follows the theme of, you guessed it, a party with a cast of characters and snippets of conversation, “listen to this half-wit spilling his guts after a bottle of wine”. There’s a tale of imagined heartbreak (‘The Worst in You’), an “I don’t know what you see in him” conversation (‘Quite Like You’), while ‘Early to the Party’ explores that awkward beginning through its ‘A Day in the Life’ style strings. While these are hardly celebratory lyrical themes, overall The Party is a fairly upbeat affair.
After a few tracks the album settles into its groove, with vibrant instrumentation built on top of some simple acoustic guitar. Shauf’s vocals possess an Elliott Smith quality, whether he’s singing “do-do-do” or his occasional stumbling lyric, there’s a comforting tone throughout. Musically, his palette of seventies influenced chamber pop invites the listener to dip their toes in at any point, but does allow the album to float by, just a little, around the middle.
Bookending the album are two of the strongest tracks, the aforementioned ‘The Magician’ and ‘Martha Sways’. Where ‘Early to the Party’ explores that awkward beginning through its ‘A Day in the Life’ style strings, the closer is that end of night lull. The quietest composition here, with much of the grandeur stripped away for a melancholic moment, “Martha sways and I follow suit, she fills my glass and I toss it back, into the space that once held you”.
The Party is Shauf’s rather gentle portrayal of social festivities, his narrative capturing those typical night-time conversations and interactions. As the album floats through its ten tracks, a confident Shauf showcases his considerable compositional abilities to create a laid-back mood. This is one to settle into for an evening.