21:45 ANDY SHAUF
21:45 ANDY SHAUF
Norm, the latest album from singer-songwriter Andy Shauf, is a glittering arc with unsettling silences that complete its story, the pop and hiss of a needle on a record player after the song ends, the emptiness like a trapdoor to something tender and terrifying. The Saskatchewan-born artist has already made a name for himself thanks to his TV appearances and enviable reviews for his previous work, including his 2016 release “The Party”, which The Sunday Times praised for its “murderous lyrics in extraordinarily beautiful music”, and the late-night bar drama of 2020’s “The Neon Skyline”, which Pitchfork called “a nostalgic, funny and heartbreaking world”.
With “Norm”, he upended his songwriting methods, creating a deeply haunting and unpredictable universe. It’s a classic Shauf premise to wonder if we’re destined for disappointment and pain when people don’t love us the way we want them to. But this time, he pushes the question further. Many of the tracks on “Norm” begin delicately and melancholically, with the mood of classic torch songs. In the middle of a line, Shauf’s voice unexpectedly switches to a higher, plaintive register. It sounds as if he’s sitting next to you, singing softly in your ear, with the persuasive desire of Chet Baker, if Chet Baker sang with Canadian round vowels.
But listen closely, and at the heart of the music, a change takes place as the world becomes chaotic. The tempo slows, vertigo sets in, or a discordant note appears. An ominous clarinet phrase turns into a busy signal. A lyric shifts from overview to intimate thoughts. The result is recognizable Shauf production, but with a fluid landscape of hushed grooves propelling the songs to uncertain destinations. He takes us to a wild and dangerous place. The story takes shape through small epiphanies, accumulating like the debris of a series of implosions.
The cast of “Norm” comprises four voices in all. Three are narrators, into whom Shauf plunges us for one or more songs. The voice of a fourth character appears only through the memory of a laugh and a single line, relayed by one of the narrators: “Are we leaving town?” Watching a David Lynch film one evening, Shauf found the inspiration to frame his concept. What appeared to be an almost static still shot of a key on a table continued uninterrupted for two minutes, then five minutes, then seven. It seemed impossible in its relentlessness, bordering on genius.
Eventually, Shauf realized that his navigator had crashed and the film had frozen. Enchanted by the sense of possibility and wonder that had made the film so alive for him during this period of incomprehension, he wanted to create something similar. He deliberately left open spaces through which readers could enter to find the story and create their own meaning.
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