Desire Tangled with Uncertainty: A Track-by-Track Review of Andy Shauf’s “The Party”

The Party - Andy Shauf
The Party - Andy Shauf

Adrian's Take

Andy Shauf’s ‘The Party’ is a testament to storytelling, achieving a level of beauty so many artists have attempted, but failed to realize in their music.

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There truly are perks to being a wallflower. Hanging in the backdrop of the crowded house party, it is easy to find oneself gazing at the partygoers, and, for a second, entering their lives in anonymity. To closely follow their movements, expressions, and mannerisms with the intent of figuring out what exactly is going in their life. This is the scene that is setup with Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf’s third LP released in 2016, The Party.

The Party - Andy Shauf
The Party – Andy Shauf

Through a series of vignettes, the listener is sifted in and out of the various partygoers’ consciences, all through the lens of a wallflower – you. A similar style was introduced in Shauf’s previous album, The Bearer of Bad News, where we were thrust into the melancholic lives of the citizens in a small town. Now, the scale has dwindled down to a single party, a single night, in which we are introduced to abnormal characters, life-changing confessions, and doleful realizations.

With dreamy guitar playing, bustling string and clarinet performances, soft-spoken synths, and gentle piano playing and drum beats, Shauf has created stories that will leave the listener feeling a powerful connection to each character. This isn’t your average house party, and such an emotionally-charged night leaves only one truth: there will certainly be regrets the following morning.

Listen: ‘The Party’ – Andy Shauf

The Magician

Aptly accompanied by its mind-bending music video, the opening track, “The Magician,” takes us down the rabbit hole. What starts as delicate piano playing erupts into a beautiful arrangement of strings and clarinet (A staple for Shauf) with a nice hint of subtle guitar playing to keep the tempo. The listener is introduced to the entertainment of the evening – the magician.

Do you find
It gets a little easier each time you make it disappear?
Oh fools, the magician bends the rules
As the crowd watches his every move

The narrator wonders to himself if every time this magician hides his real self from others, it becomes easier to do, giving the listener the impression this entertainer is troubled. The track then goes into the magician’s tricks and how it dazzles the audience. The next line, “just a shaking hand without a plan” delves deeper into the character. Maybe his performance isn’t as professional at it may seem, but rather a culmination of nervous hand movements in attempts to make something amazing.  The rest of the chorus is a lovely set of “doo doo doos” that add a bit of whimsy to the track.

Sidesteps to a death-defying feat
Wait for him to reappear
Look close, you’ll see him sweat the most
Each time his options disappear

The narrator then notices that the more tricks the magician performs the fewer options he has at impressing the crowd, causing nervousness that makes him sweat. The narrator then repeats the line in the chorus, only then it goes into the first person with “I’m a shaking hand without a plan.” Shauf has put himself into the song, implying he and the magician are no different; Just two entertainers whose options are fading.

Early to the Party

It’s never fun being the first to arrive at the party, is it? All one would do is “stress out the host” while they are “pulling teeth until anyone arrives.” What Shauf details in the second track is that very situation, only our main character arrived early on purpose.

There’s three new faces coming up the drive
Exhale nervous greetings as they shuffle past
Can’t he ever show up on time?

One can only wait for so long, and it seems our character’s opportunity to be with this man is slowly fading. After the chorus, the song begins this build up with heavy use of string instruments, slowly getting louder as if the moment our character has been waiting for is upon them. Our mystery man arrives, but it’s not what we had hoped for.

What happened to manners
I guess he’s had a few
He’s talking shit
He never thinks of you
So bite your lip and watch him walk off with his friends
Leaving you all alone once again

The language used indicates they are more than just two people at a party, but a couple. The night isn’t exactly what our main character had in mind. To hope for a chance to be with the one you care the most about, only for it to be crushed under the realization that maybe the romantic feelings aren’t shared. I guess parties are good for these sorts of epiphanies.

Twist Your Ankle

The third track has a bit of simplicity with its sound – slowly acoustic guitar playing, easy drum beats, sprinkles of piano, and a nice bit of “doo doo doos” to make for a track that’s a little sweeter than our first two. But, as with the other two, the partygoer focused on this track isn’t exactly having the best possible time. While dancing, we learn that our main character is distracted by someone, causing a twist of the ankle.

Goodnight, I’m tossing in the towel again
Go laugh with all your friends
Oh I don’t really understand them

With “everybody laughing” at the narrator, all he wishes to do is leave, but maybe there’s still a chance to woo this special someone.

Last night, dancing slow in turning light
I watched you walk right by
Well twist my ankle, stay by your side

Or maybe there isn’t. Defeated, our narrator questions why he even bothered to show up. He wishes he had just stayed home.

Quite Like You

Right from the start of the first verse of the track, the listener can start to piece this night together.

Jeremy’s so stoned I’d be surprised
if he saw the tears in Sherry’s eyes
She’s standing in the corner staring at the floor
I wonder what the hell he did this time

Our couple from “Early to the Party” is none other than Sherry and Jeremy. Our narrator notices the obvious frustration, so he walks over to Sherry to try and provide support. Sherry and the narrator talk, and then she mutters, “I’ve never really met someone like you.” Taken aback, our narrator sees an opportunity, a chance to win over Sherry.

The next verse details the narrator’s drunken tirade, needlessly berating and “cutting Jeremy right in two.”  As he continues with his rant, he makes a move.

She’s getting uneasy and
my drunken speech ends
as my hand finds its way to hers

He finishes his speech with the same line, “I’ve never really met someone like you.” Our narrator’s hopes of love are ripped away as quickly as they appeared once Jeremy stops by. Sherry puts her arm around him, and they simply walk away from the narrator – like nothing even occurred. For the narrator’s sake, it’s probably best that way.

Begin Again

The plot thickens with heavy horn blasts, steady drums, and gorgeous clarinets throughout. The listener is started off with a confrontation – presumed to be Jeremy and the narrator from the previous track. The narrator begins to scold Jeremy, starting his “act” with Sherry is Hollywood worthy. The narrator sees Jeremy as nothing more than a “leading man in a film where the end of the world is decided by” him. The second verse continues with the narrator’s rant.

Begin again
And tell me all about the one that you love
And all about the other one
That you’ve got on the side
I don’t give a damn
About you fooling around behind Sherry’s back
It’s just the one that you found
Is one that I need

Despite these revelations about Jeremy’s adulterous ways and our narrator’s love for Sherry, the track continues with its upbeat tone, almost as if the further down we go into this rabbit hole, all the listener can do is smile, listen, and carry on. With the third verse, we get inside the mind of Jeremy with his inner monologue. Questioning the narrator, he seems to only be upset by the fact that he can’t finish his drink anymore.  The two separate, but now the narrator is left wondering about who Sherry is thinking of – him or Jeremy.

The Worst in You

Soft strumming from an acoustic guitar starts setting the stage for our next vignette, only to quickly change into a big band sound of horns, heavy bass drums, subtle strings, and a jolly piano melody. As the track starts, the listener is introduced to a man who went out for a smoke, only to forget his lighter inside. He heads back and then looks for his girlfriend’s coat. Unable to find it, he starts to look for her. Laughter is heard behind closed doors upstairs, his heart sinks, and is left wondering “are you running around or just running away?”

For a quick second, he realizes his rash thoughts are nothing more than just that – rash.

Why do I always find the worst in you?
Do you always find the worst in me?
Or do I only find the worst in you?

What makes our narrator so afraid of the worst possible outcome – is it insecurity? Is it issues from the past? Maybe she has these same feelings, or maybe it’s him after all. After a few moments, his girlfriend call for him, from down in the living. It looks like it really is just him.

To You

Somber guitar playing and piano playing immediately set the tone, giving the listener a hint at what is to come. The character Jeremy is back, but our narrator is someone new. He asks Jeremy to find “somewhere quite” with him, leading them to head outside. Once alone, our narrator opens himself up.

It’s just that sometimes when I’m by your side
It feels so right
It feels like nothing could go wrong

The chorus begins, “doesn’t it feel like that you?” A break in signing occurs with the introduction of clarinets slowly rising. More instruments start joining; a sense of panic can be heard as if the listener is inside the mind of the narrator. He then backtracks, stating it came out all wrong. He simply wanted to convey his friendship to Jeremy, blaming the alcohol for his bewildering confession.  Jeremy laughs, allowing our narrator to act casual about it stating Jeremy should “tell the guys and laugh it up.”

As our narrator is left alone, he thinks to himself, “Why am I even surprised? That it never feels like that you.” Honesty can be great, or it could be a travesty. Heartbroken and alone, our narrator now has an idea of the repercussions of it.

Eyes of Them All

Joy permeates the entirety of the track, giving the listener a much-deserved reprieve from the solemn tales of this house party from hell. The first verse talks about a dancer immediately soaking up all the attention from the party goers, including our narrator. Upbeat drums kicks and delicate piano paint the listener a picture of this woman, beautiful in her every movement. Our narrator is transfixed on her, believing he could “fall for her.”

She’s talking circles
Start to feel her words
Float on past without being heard
I’m awash poured out into night
I’ll keep my eyes holding onto hers

She stops, and so do the hearts of those watching. Our narrator brings himself back to life with the quick puff of a cigarette, waiting for her return to the spotlight.

Alexander All Alone

There’s no hidden meaning within this track, no ulterior motive. From the get-go, our character Alexander is “all alone smoking a cigarette, the last pack he’d buy.” What the listener discovers is that Alexander kept his promise: this was his last pack.

He stood up to stretch his back
And fell down to the ground…
Felt them check his pulse
He heard them pronounce him dead

As he lay there dead, his soul is still attached to his body. He wonders why his life didn’t flash before his eyes, no peace of mind occurred. Maybe that’s the way it was for those who pass, or maybe he never truly lived at all. He realized that “hell was inside” him, possibly referring his need for cigarettes. It was a constant battle attempting to quit and simply going to the store to get another pack. His life was less than nothing, it never was. Alexander never truly lived, he only existed.

Martha Sways

The final track resembles the ending of the party and the closing of a story – a delicate tune that provides blissful harmonies and an emotional tug at the listener, showing that beauty and sadness are never far apart. Our narrator from “Eyes of Them All” returns, and so too do the bewitching moves of our dancer: Martha. He’s in a stupor, being reminded of his former lover by Martha. The spotlight is now on these two.

Martha’s thin
Pretty just like you
I held her close
Like I held you

Acting as a phantom of the past, our narrator can’t help but think of what could have been. Despite these feelings of uncertainty, he continues to dance with her. He finds comfort in her, like she fills that void he’s been so desperately trying to plug.

And dance dance to the radio
While the devil takes control
Dance dance to the radio
While the devil takes control

An allusion to Joy Division’s “Transmission” is made through “Dance dance to the radio.” The listener is given insight; this melancholic story is unfolding while the rock anthems of years past blare in the background.  The devil he references could act as his own intuition. He sways with her; he stays close to her, but why? His instincts dictate him to, yet it’s all for the wrong reason. His longing for that fleeting love has washed over him, and now Martha is nothing more than a vessel to his past memories.

An onrush of strings gives the listener a sense of progression into the evening. As our narrator continues to struggle, he soon finds comfort.

There’s a weight
Holding me down
Martha says
It’s all in my head
I look at the lights
Dancing in her eyes
And I wanna die
Dancing in her eyes

He begins to see Martha for her, not of the former lover. As he looks into her eyes, the reflection of him dancing with her is visible, and in that moment he has found euphoria. Martha captivates him, and if he were to die in that moment, his life would nothing less than tremendous for having been able to dance and be with Martha. The music picks up during the last chorus, like the life is now rising back within our narrator.

Martha spins
And I catch her hand
She smiles and laughs
Bringing me back

Back to the slow progression of the track, he is now thrust back into the present, solely focused on the alluring Martha. New memories are to be made, and our narrator’s future holds many possibilities with Martha by his side.

The Party

Andy Shauf has captured the tender moments of youth flawlessly in The Party. His stories are gorgeous anthems tinged with the despair we have all once felt. Many of these tracks represent more than those at the party, but Shauf’s own personal shortcomings and insecurities. This album is a culmination of the best and worst parts of one’s life; all tied together with hauntingly beautiful vocal performances and laid back instruments. He has created something so many others have tried to do, but ultimately failed to fully accomplish.

As he continues with his music, we at Atwood Magazine will eagerly wait to hear his next set of music which will surely be just as magnificent, if not more so.

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:: stream/purchase The Party here ::

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