When you think of music and Saskatchewan, The Sheepdogs are probably the first and only band you could name. Regina-native Andy Shauf will soon change that with The Bearer of Bad News.
Unlike the grizzled rock band, Shauf’s songs are epic for the stories they tell and not for elongated guitar solos or roaring choruses. He is a storyteller who uses music to illustrate and add atmosphere to his brilliant and often dreary tales. From his soft tenor to the classical arrangements to the subtle instrumentation that includes the piano, clarinet, guitar, and drums, his approach has an air of familiarity, specifically to two artists and great songwriters.
One half of the album echoes of the brilliance of Elliott Smith. The lead single from the album, the jangle-pop number “You’re Out Wasting”, introduces us to the comparison, and you would be forgiven to thinking it was Smith singing. Like the late, great, indie legend, the song speaks of heartbreak and missed opportunities. The mournful and introspective “I’m Not Falling Asleep” tells the story of the internal battle many go through, that sense of loss and uncertainty, of loneliness and isolation, of not succumbing to the eventual ending.
“Cover in Dust” is a beautiful, sombre track of want and distance. The track ends with 12 words that we could all relate to: I will die a poor man / covered in dust / dreaming of you. “The Man on Stage” is a mid-tempo track that again has Shauf channeling Smith, as he sings to an unknown person, “I’m not a poet, I’m a broken heart”. It’s a simple set of lyrics, but chalk full of meaning.
The other half with the piano-focused tracks recall Mike Hadreas – a.k.a. Perfume Genius. With the deep tones and textures of the piano and powerful lyrics, Shauf hits hard with his songwriting although the music may be mellow and graceful. “Jesus, She’s a Good Girl” might capture the essence of Hadreas’ songwriting, questioning our perceptions of truth, honesty, and fate.
“Wendell Walker”, meanwhile, is the highlight of the album and one of the best songs of the young year. It tells the story of a fallen man, a man whose life was riddled with pain and how everything around him failed him. The last 2.5 minutes, in particular, are startling and dramatic. There may not be a more powerful segment of music in 2015.
The companion tracks, “Jerry Was a Clerk” and “My Dear Helen”, must be listened together. As a whole, they are brilliant. The songs tell two sides of a story of an unintended death. The former is a third-person look at a hard-on-his-luck man who only wanted something so bad that his desires led to a mistake. The track is a mid-tempo piece with an ’80s piano-vibe. The latter, which is also the album’s closer, is told through Jerry’s eyes. It has the beauty of Hadreas – a piano-focused track that is sullen, remorseful, and contemplative. While there is a sense of forgiveness, there is also a feeling of regret. It’s a delicate track that aches with each note, putting the listener in Jerry’s shoes as he deals with his mistake.
The Bearer of Bad News is a brilliant album. It is one that must be listened to several times, as with each listen something new is heard and a different emotion is experienced. It’s a thoughtful, dense, and engrossing album, and it is one that will make music fans look at Saskatchewan in a different way – a province that can create truly great songwriters who captivate and profound.
The Bearer of Bad News is out on Portland-based, indie labels Tender Loving Empire and Party Damage Records. Get the album at Tender Loving Empire (where you can choose your own price), Bandcamp, iTunes, and Amazon. You can also hear the entire album on Tender Loving Empire Soundcloud page.
Shauf is currently on tour, including a stop at SXSW. See tour dates below.
Austin, TX • 03.18.15 • Sledge Hammer (SXSW)
Austin, TX • 03.20.15 • Departure Lounge (SXSW)
Denver, CO • 03.24.15 • Larimer Lounge w/ Viet Cong
Salt Lake City, UT • 03.25.15 • Kilby Court w/ Viet Cong
Boise, ID • 03.28.15 • Treefort Music Festival
Los Angeles, CA • 03.30.15 • Bardot (School Night!)
London, UK • 05.13.15 • Slaughtered Lamb
Brighton, UK • 05.15.15 • The Great Escape
Ottawa, ON • 05.29.15 • National Arts Centre
Gardenstown, UK • 09.05.15 • End Of The Road Festival
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