Andy Shauf’s career is proof that there is nothing more important than practicing and honing your craft. Four years in the making, 'The Neon Skylight' is not only a triumph of great writing, but also a celebration of the humble and mundane, which he uses to explore the central narratives of most people’s lives. Much like his first album 'The Party' (2016), tracing a house party from the perspectives of different attendees, The Neon Skylight is even more granular – a single night at a bar, told in 11 tracks.
The listener is immersed in the melodrama of what could be any night in any watering hole in the world. We meet Charlie, the narrator’s reliable but tardy friend; Rose, the attentive and (seemingly enduringly) patient barmaid, and an absent, but not for long, ex-girlfriend Judy. The storyteller yearns for the return of Judy, retelling past times through reminders seemingly everywhere until she eventually reappears.
Through prose akin to that of JD Salinger in its unfettered stream of consciousness, clever alliterations, rhymes and inventive conjunctions, we hear a detailed narrative from which the rhythm of the song is created. With an album so driven by lyrical content it sometimes lacks the biting melodic hooks one associates with contemporary music, but instead it’s an album in which listeners can appreciate the craftsmanship of the almost spoken word. ‘
Try Again’, for example, tells a story relatable in its minutia: “Somewhere between drunkenness and charity, she puts her hand on the sleeve of my coat. She says ‘I’ve missed this.’ I say ‘I know, I’ve missed you too.’ She says, ‘I was actually talking about your coat.’ She makes me laugh, oh how she makes me laugh. I just let my head sink down and fake some deep sobs. Come on baby, try again.”
Its wholly familiar duality - we've all been there, that embarrassing crossing of wires - in a single moment is beautifully captured by this little exchange. It’s hard not to sympathise with the narrator, but also delight at Shauf’s ability to document and express it.
This is a classic “one man, one guitar and the truth” album where folk finds its routes, but one so seemingly effortless and humble in its subject matter it’s easy to overlook the skill of the penmanship. Even the backing; a humble mix of guitar, woodwind and subtle percussion is symbolic of the setting that it is creates. One can almost hear the conversations in the background, the clinks of glasses settling down on the table, getting to know the story’s characters the same way you would a piece of theatre. The buzz of “The Neon Skylight” sign flickering above the entrance.
The charm of this album is the familiarity of it. If one chose not to listen too closely “The Neon Skyline” could wash over you without appreciating the beauty within. Which, when one considers the contents of the album, is exactly the point.
In short, The Neon Skyline is one of those albums that will probably never achieve the popularity with the influencers and loud crowds that one sometimes lazily associates with a “successful” artist. Instead, it’s more likely to be enjoyed by hardcore fans in a small venue eschewing the limelight for a communal lament of the lives of the narrator, Charlie, Rose and Claire.
Writer: Christopher Spring
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