Andy Shauf had barely been away a year, but what a year it had been. After having built up a solid reputation through a decade of self-released albums, small tours, and word of mouth admiration, Shauf signed to American indie label ANTI-Records and put out his most polished LP yet, 2020’s The Neon Skyline. That’s not to say it diverted from Shauf’s signature style, namely rough and ready indie-folk, but it did have the most polished and hi-fi sound yet.
What followed was a strange amount of acclaim. Not strange as in “unwarranted”, but enough major acclaim from major publications that Shauf poked his head above obscurity for the first time. His delicate vocals and vivid storytelling style even caught the attention of former US President Barack Obama, who included the album’s title track on the 2020 version of his annual summer playlist. It’s hard to get a more significant endorsement than that.
If it were anybody else in his position, they would likely take this sudden influx of notoriety and use it to go bigger and bolder – more elaborate production, more indulgent arrangements, more professional recording, more ambitious dreams. If not now, when? But on his surprise new LP Wilds, Shauf is thoroughly unmoved and unaffected by his heightened profile. In a testament to how confident he is in his own unique style, Wilds consciously takes a step back from the grandeur and focuses on the more minor details.
Shauf’s gift was always treating the minutia of life with the same attention as the larger events surrounding it. A cup of coffee on ‘Green Glass’ says more about a relationship between two people than any grand romantic gesture ever would. A sudden rush of emotion in ‘Jaywalker’ complicates the feelings you thought you were set in stone. Disagreeing with a simple cliched phrase like “out of sight, out of mind” is enough to highlight the emotional chasm between two individuals on ‘Jeremy’s Wedding (Wilds)’. Whereas most songwriters want to be vague and sweepingly grandiose to bring in as many people as possible, Shauf understands that anyone can relate to the trials and tribulations of normal, boring everyday life.
The calmness and unhurried nature of Shauf’s musical style remains solidly in place. It would seem strangely incongruous for the Canadian singer-songwriter to lyrically tune in to the smaller details while musically expanding his scope, so instead, he doubles down on the languid tempos, acoustic guitars, and occasional clarinet tootles that he’s become synonymous with. If there’s a quibble to be had about Wilds, it would probably be that Shauf isn’t breaking any new ground or challenging himself all that much musically.
But that is the only criticism I can level against him. With Wilds, Shauf takes the opportunity to make his own case as one of the strongest songwriters of his generation. When more eyes are on him than ever before, his timing, as always, is impeccable.
Wilds is available to stream on September 24.