Underrated albums of 2020, Vol. 1: Andy Shauf – The Neon Skyline

The Saskatchewan-born artist narrates a tale of a lonely man spending a night out with his friends, and his regrets.

Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf has a seemingly innate ability to capture and express human emotion through the stories he tells. On his latest release, The Neon Skyline, Shauf plays the narrator in a first-person story with a full cast of characters that charmingly and intimately explores the full spectrum of human emotion.

Shauf tells the story of a young man who calls up his friend Charlie one night and they head to their favourite local bar, the titular Neon Skyline. While they’re enjoying their drinks together, Charlie breaks the news to our narrator that his ex-girlfriend Judy is back in town.

This news begins to consume our narrator’s thoughts, as he becomes ruefully nostalgic about their relationship, recalling everything from the pleasant times to the miserably bitter. From “Where Are You Judy” to “Things I Do” we hear the narrator’s poetic reflections on their time together, from more pleasant memories to those that led to their relationship’s eventual ending.

While reminiscing on the love that they once shared, he begins to hope that he’ll run into her while he is out so he can attempt to rekindle the flame they once had. As the night progresses, we see the narrator and his friends having deep conversations and drunkenly deciding to hit the town, when they run into Judy on “The Moon.”

This track and “Try Again” feel almost like a single song with two parts, as they both focus on the time the pair spend together after running into one another. During this time, our narrator becomes enamoured with her once again, though this doesn’t last long, as Judy reminds him, both directly and indirectly, that they can’t restore what they once had. These two tracks are clear highlights on the album, with beautiful writing that is simple and concise yet completely captivating as we see our hopeful narrator fumble his way through their time together.

The last two tracks see their night reach its inevitable end, and with that end comes clarity for our narrator. As he looks at the mostly pleasant night that he and Judy have shared, he realizes he’s gained the closure necessary to move on. Realizing that he doesn’t have to continue repeating his habits and actions, he may not be able to undo what’s been done, but he can grow from it.

This album is absolutely fantastic — it plays like a short film, with nuanced characters and real, tangible explorations into human emotion. Having written, performed, arranged and produced every song on the album, Shauf not only shaped a great story but gave it a living world. The warm, folk-tinged indie sound of this project, gives each scene character and context, creating a perfect marriage between the lyrics and the music. The Neon Skyline is as cinematic as it is poetic, and it excels greatly at being both, making it one of the best releases of this year.

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