Album: Andy Shauf – Wilds review

by Chris Hatch

On Wilds, Andy Shauf takes us on a journey of overheard conversations, fleeting interactions, and intertwined relationships

Whether it’s the web of uneasy paranoia that entangles the guests on 2016’s The Party, or the booze-soaked mixture of hope and regret that lingers in the air amongst the patrons of a small town bar on The Neon Skyline, Andy Shauf is a master of teasing the complexities of human emotion out of everyday situations. His songwriting has a kind of intangibility that makes his music feel wholly familiar, yet hard to peg down – the warm, rounded bass, simple, sauntering guitar lines, and stylish swells of woodwind and strings that make up his sound have the feel of something that could be floating through an Upper Manhattan brownstone in the late-70s; a kind of mature, sophisticated pop that you know you’ve only just discovered, but that your hippocampus tells you has always been in your life.

On his latest record, Wilds, Shauf takes us on a journey of overheard conversations, fleeting interactions, and intertwined relationships. The stories that weave throughout the record are told in a literary style – like an old, dog eared paperback, or a recently discovered indie film, Shauf lures us from scene to scene, rationing out plot points bit-by-bit. Old faces return; new secrets creep out from the corners.

But unlike his previous two records, Wilds feels less direct and a tad dreamier. Lyrically, Shauf spends less time dealing with the mechanics of his story, and more time dwelling in his characters’ headspace. Lead single, Spanish On The Beach, for example, finds the protagonist caught halfway between fact and fantasy – a ‘what if?’ scenario catches him in reflective wistfulness. Further into the album, Call, sees Shauf longing for the sound of a voice he’s lost – the triple tracked vocals and flutters of strummed electric guitar only add to his sense of isolation and confusion.

And this is the case right through the record. Shauf masterfully partners drifting thoughts with spacious, contemplative instrumentations – guitars flicker away in the background, a clarinet snakes its way out before sloping off again, and drumlines act as a rough scaffold for songs to be hung on, rather than as a heartbeat by which they’re commanded. The one exception is the fantastic Green Glass where Shauf finds himself back on the beat. A beautiful jigsaw of indelible melodies and idiosyncratic lyrics – it’s a poppy, tropical island in the middle of a sea of floaty, airy songwriting.

Wilds finds Shauf ploughing into the psyche of his characters. It’s an album that’s disembodied from the nuts and bolts of how a situation has unfolded, and instead concerns itself with the emotions that are dredged up. It’s a more subtle affair in every sense – the melodies on his previous records linger like the outline of a neon sign against the inside of a shut eyelid, whereas Wilds sees those same melodies make their mark more gradually. Wilds may not be the perfect place to start for those not familiar with Shauf’s music, but, given time, it’s every bit as arresting, affecting, and hummable as his previous work.

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