Andy Shauf’s third record kicks off his break into the mainstream with a sound all its own. Shauf uses his extensive knowledge of musical theory and storytelling to create something unique on the Indie soundscape, a difficult task amidst the sea of money-grabbing Mac DeMarco clones that inhabited it during the 2010's.
Andy Shauf is first and foremost a storyteller. The Bearer of Bad News, as an album, serves more as a vessel and less of a cohesive label for this group of songs. While the title of the album comes up as a phrase in “You’re Out Wasting”, you wouldn’t be able to place why this album is titled thus just by listening. Each vignette tells a story. Sometimes funny, mostly somber, and always accompanied by Andy’s impressive knowledge of interestingly-voiced chords on the guitar and fun piano riffs.
Shauf’s multi-instrumentalism is stripped down notably on this record, often having one instrument take center stage as the other provide accents. About half of the tracks (“Drink My Rivers”, “I’m Not Falling Asleep”, “Lick Your Wounds, “Jerry Was a Clerk”, and “My Dear Helen”) feature a toned keyboard as the focus, whereas the others are composed of mainly guitar chords. However, the instrumentation is always kept to a level where the main focus is kept on Shauf’s stories and lilting vocal melodies.
The black-and-white cover of the album is no last-minute stylistic flair. The songwriting intentionally avoids technology, excluding the phone in “Wendell Walker”. Each song could easily be referring to a desolate and out-of-focus present, or a faraway past. The emotions Andy Shauf’s characters encounter are permanent and ever-prevalent, ensuring that the listener will be able to follow along without giving too much context. The stripped-down instrumentation also plays a part, of course. The slow drum beats and beating-heart guitar give us the feeling that these stories occur in Shauf’s little own pocket dimension, devoid of color and electric light.
At times we may see Andy singing as himself; in “The Man On Stage”, we hear “I am not a poet, I’m a broken heart” and “taking the edge off of me/is a necessity when I am singing these words that I no longer mean”. Of course, as an author and artist, it would be near impossible not to insert some of himself into his vignettes. Not to mention the central characters in each story are unique, meaning that he would have to come up with a veritable bouquet of poins of view without using any of his personal experiences.
The messages contained within each story, at their most simplified state, are often those of despair, jealousy, and fatigue. The speaker in each song often feels as though they’ve lost something, fucked something up, or feel a general sense that the earth will keep turning without them. On “Wendell Walker”, “Covered in Dust”, “You’re Out Wasting”, and “Jesus She’s a Good Girl”, the narrator deals or is dealt love crimes that warrant a trip to the second level of Dante’s Inferno.
There’s a saying in Buddhism, that everyone was your mother once. Andy’s character creations deal and are dealt pain, experience the world as a monotonous trial and have to console others who feel that way. While Andy Shauf “Bears” the bad news on this record, he also brings a sense of somber togetherness absent on many other melancholia projects.
There’s a sense that one gets when they listen to a lot of Andy Shauf; it’s that maybe we all exist inside of the world inside his mind. The solidarity and relatability that his projects bring allow us to exist between the lines of his pen, and yet also project his stories into our reality.