Andy Shauf's The Party
It always seems like when things go awry in the world, beautiful music is created to help balance out the ripples that get created. So as depressing as this year got, there were so many good albums that came out: the Hip, Secret Path, Blackstar, PUP, Bon Iver, etc etc etc. On top of the great albums of 2016 for me is Andy Shauf's The Party.
This is one of those albums that immediately took hold of me when I first heard it and dominated my personal soundtrack ever since. I listen to it an unhealthy amount. My obsession with this album has reached the point where I’ve become that annoying dude who can’t stop pushing it on everyone. If we’ve had a conversation longer than 10 minutes over the past few months, I’ve probably taken the liberty of asking, “Hey have you heard of Andy Shauf?” And when you say no, I say “oh my goddddd, you haaaaaave to check out this album maaaaaaan.” Elongating my words for maximum effect, pleading that you listen to it so that we can be on the same page.
The Party is a not just a collection of songs, but a collection of co-mingling characters where each song chronicles one or two characters’ perspective of the same party. Like any party, this album contains the inevitable insecurity, heartache and intrigue that result when you mix friends, lovers and secret admirers with cigarettes and excessive boozing. The words are written with a natural, observational ease; similar to the way Paul Simon writes, more in the tone of a conversation rather than lyrical prose. The story of this party is paired with Andy Shauf’s warm, piano driven musical compositions that mix simple, yet intriguing melodies with chord progressions that resemble classic pop like Randy Newman, Beach Boys or The Beatles. There is even some Ron Sexsmith influence apparent in songs like The Worst In You.
As I mentioned before, I’m obsessed with this album, so naturally I’ve attempted to dissect exactly what went down at this party. There are reoccurring characters that pop up throughout the album like Jeremy, for example, the resident asshole of the party, or his sweet, unassuming girlfriend Sherry who can’t help but stay with him despite a drunken suitor blabbing to her about his indiscretions in an attempt to win her over. Oh the drama! The album starts with The Magician, which details the struggles of an insecure attendee who makes puts on a show, using sleight of hand and performing tricks to avoid revealing their true self to the room. The song builds into sweeping string and piano arrangements that bounce around like a carnival and ends with the Magician internally exclaiming that he or she is really “just a shaking hand without a concrete plan.”
Next, Early to the Party is about the girl who shows up way too early, waiting for her boyfriend to get there, “stressing out the host, pulling teeth ‘til everyone arrives.” The song has a musical break where a trance like string arrangement that builds harmonies on itself as it weaves between the underlying groove. Finally snapping the trance, the girl “bites her lip as he walks off with his friends, leaving [her] all alone once again.” This album is filled with little moments like this. Little personal interactions that seem insignificant when mixed in with the haze of the party, but when observed on their own, they can be devastatingly vulnerable.
The party continues with alcohol influencing the relationships in the room with Twist Your Ankle; a song with both perspectives of a girl and her too-drunk dance partner who is falling all over the place and realizes “everybody’s laughing at me, I wish I’d just stayed home.” This is followed by Quite Like You, which is the first mention of Jeremy (the asshole) and Sherry (the girlfriend). One of Jeremy’s best friends gets too drunk and professes his love to Sherry, while also ripping Jeremy apart to a happy go lucky melody. Begin Again is another perspective of someone who resents Jeremy’s ability to do whatever he wants seemingly without consequence.
Andy Shauf seems like the ultimate wallflower. As if he has spent his life at the party, just observing. His firm grasp on the human condition is showcased by his ability to pinpoint small details that reveal the naked truth about our inner insecurities as people. The Worst in You is about a guy who is trying to find his girlfriend in the party, hears her laughing in another room and gets that sinking feeling you get when you assume the worst about your partner. Is she off with some other guy? When he realizes the laughing was innocuous, that feeling switches to shame as he sings, “Why do I always seek the worst in you?”
The next song is To You. This song struck me to the core the first time I heard it live at Hillside this year. It’s the reason why I immediately went out to find his music after the festival. It has this perfectly melancholic piano progression with lyrics that mimic one side of a man’s drunken confession of romantic love to his good friend Jeremy. As you know by now, Jeremy is a straight up asshole, so this confession is rejected in devastating fashion, but you never hear actually hear that side of the conversation, you only hear the person confessing. It ends in severe back peddling where he sings, “Get over yourself, I’m not in love with you, it just came out all wrong.” Ughh. Thankfully, Eyes of Them All relieves the tension created by this confession with an upbeat, happy tune about pining for the muse of the party as she dances on her own.
The last two songs take this party to a dark place. Alexander All Alone is about a man who dies at the party (yea, this party is hardcore). He ends his life in despair and makes the harrowing realization that even in death; he can’t relieve the turmoil within. There is one repeating note on the piano that continues throughout the song like a constantly dripping tap, as if to torture you along with Alexander’s inner hell. The album ends with Martha Sways, a subdued but gorgeous arrangement of acoustic guitar and strings as Andy Shauf sings over top “Dance Dance to the radio, while the devil takes control.” It’s a song about losing the love of your life and struggling to move on with someone new.
Every song on this album has the ability to connect with you on a pure and deep emotional level. It’s to the point that the characters feel real to me, I feel like I them personally. The other astonishing thing is that Andy Shauf wrote and played every part on the album, except for strings. Whaaaat? The Party is a singular artistic effort that sounds completely organic and comfortable.
I could probably write another thousand words and properly geek out on it, but it’s Christmas Eve and I’m home for the holidays. My little nephew is here and Uncle Jay has a responsibility to make fart noises, throw him around like a rag doll and make him laugh as hard as possible. I’ll leave you with a recommendation: oh my goddddd, you haaaaaave to check out this album maaaaaaan.