Album Review: Andy Shauf - 'Wilds'

In recent years Canadian singer-songwriter (and clarinetist!) Andy Shauf has been busy. In 2020 his album 'The Neon Skyline' gained much critical acclaim for it's romantic, yet humorous lyricism and delicate vocal delivery. Shauf returns just a year later to give us 'Wilds', a shorter project that builds even further on his laid back appeal. Jamie Osborne shares his thoughts.

Andy Shauf has continued his steady march forward as a singer-songwriter. Beginning with his 2010 American indie-folk records, then later establishing a unique sound with breakout album The Party, Wilds gives us a break from his more symphonic concept albums, and is a much smaller release than previous full-length records, being mostly comprised of tracks and ideas cast-aside while writing for previous albums. Shauf invites the listener to experience his music in a stripped-back, relaxed setting with less fancy production.

Throughout the album, holding true to his typical lyrical style, Shauf explores themes of social angst and alcoholism. He documents a flirtatious alcoholic in Green Glass, or a self-engrossed, anxious pedestrian in Jaywalker, unaware of the traffic hurtling toward them. Yet, melodically, the album represents a positive shift, being lighter and less wistful than previous records.

"a simpler project, smaller in its scope, perhaps, yet unconstrained by his previous conceptual boundaries."

The album features arrangements that have come to be expected from Shauf – mosaics of minimalist drums, muted bass and various wind instruments – though this time underproduced and casual. This format is simpler and less ambitious, giving the listener insight into his song-writing at an earlier stage in the production process and giving a break from the musical intensity of previous records, delving sometimes uncomfortably deep into his characters’ troubled psyches. As always, you’ll find yourself exposed to his melancholic, worry-filled lyrics, injecting an element of bleakness into the album. However, the laid-back production of Wilds ensures his cynical subject-matter is kept at bay by its whimsical and personal production style.

In particular, Shauf is pushing the limits of his sparse drum sound. It would be easy to forget a drum kit even features on this album, with tracks such as Believe Me and Judy (Wilds) being almost entirely driven by the bass, while relying heavily on his electric guitar, backing vocals, and clarinet to broaden arrangements in the chorus. This gives his acoustic guitar and lead vocals plenty of space, adding to the in-the-room vibe of the album. The various points in the album when the drums do finally break through – such as the chorus in Green Grass – are made substantially more powerful by the general absence of percussion elsewhere in the record.

With Shauf’s previous two releases being concept albums, which followed characters through a fixed setting such as his favourite bar, or an anxiety-ridden party, it seemed certain Wilds would take the listener to a new social scenery. Instead, he opted for a simpler project, smaller in its scope, perhaps, yet unconstrained by his previous conceptual boundaries. The tracks are seemingly disconnected from each other and from his wider universe of characters, with sparse references to previous albums. This stylistic choice gives Wilds the feeling of a demo album, but the tracks are individually strong enough to make this a strength, rather than a weakness.

Overall, Wilds has been a welcome surprise. A short and calming record, cheerful relative to Shauf’s past work. It represents a respite from his previous two albums and gives listeners a dose of Andy Shauf’s unique brand of indie-pop in a digestible, 27-minute package, while maintaining his signature sound and lyricism.

Written by: Jamie Osborne

Edited by: Elliot Fox

In article images courtesy of Andy Shauf via Facebook. Video Courtesy of Wellwellwell via YouTube.