By Finn Hewes
7 Feb, 2020
11 songs, 35 mins (7.9/10 on Pitchfork)
The Neon Skyline is Shauf’s fifth solo studio album and comes nearly four years after his last album release. Overall, the collection is lyrically and thematically consistent with his massive body of past work (both solo, and with his group Foxwarren) but not in a way that feels derivative or trite. He seems to have found a sonic space in which to ruminate such that all of his work feels “within a piece/world” but never spins its wheels.
Shauf forges on with his traipsing, island-inspired melodies and unique, stylistic vocal modulation that makes his accounts of even the most mundane stories feel vibrant and loaded with life. He also continues the trend of innocently voicing very mature and adult themes. Relationships, longing, loneliness, heartbreak, anger, regret, dishonesty, isolation, optimism, and growth all play a role in the poetics of this album.
The album showcases a lonely, semi-romantic, and mostly self-constructed internal narrative that takes place in the course of a single night out, between Shauf and himself, and finally, the so-close-yet-so-far-away Judy. He also mentions Charlie, his male companion, and Charlie’s partner, Claire, as accomplices to his ventures in self-piteous wallowing. Man, is he hung up on Judy. Judy is a past partner who he hears is back in town, and functions as a stand-in for a host of life’s maladies and as the beacon of Andy’s ruminations on his mistakes and short-comings.
The instrumentation is minimal and produced in a way that gives the music a warm glow, not unlike that of a neon sign. It achieves the old school, vintage vibes in an unconventional way. Rather than fuzzing out the guitars and layering on synths and fake-crackling-old-school-record-cutting-artifact noises, Shauf instead opts for more subtle compositions. Sometimes he doesn’t even sing a chorus but hums along instead. What’s more important than the words spoken or thought here is the mindset.
Though I was a little disappointed with the song “Try Again” for its rom-com-esque sensibilities and kitschy, poppy production, it did fit in well with the rest of his discography. I guess my main concern there is that it felt like a lull in an otherwise exciting, fresh collection of tracks. “Changer” puts a nice bow on things, however, and Shauf finishes with a bang. The album is mild and mellow, perfect for cruising around on a lonely night or crying into your piña colada. It sounds oddly familiar and fresh and the same time. I would highly recommend this easy-listening album for public consumption.
- “Thirteen Hours”
- “Living Room”
- “The Moon”