When you first hit “play” for the opening track of The Bearer Of Bad News, you might think about how the classic, lighthearted character who is being sung into existence must be real and possibly even someone Andy Shauf knows intimately, but if you’ve listened to the greater body of Shauf’s other work (like his preceding EP, Sam Jones Feeds His Demons), you’ll find that The Bearer Of Bad News is a product of Shauf’s dark imagination. Although most of the stories herein are fictional, there is a simple truth underneath. Amidst brilliant clarinet, strings, and piano arrangements, you’ll find the honest words of a young songwriter, beyond his years.
The first three songs introduce the featured instruments and almost walk hand in hand with the story. Shauf seems to hesitate on the road in which he leads the listener. “Is it as bad as it seems?” he asks, “When will I ever be safe from myself, if the danger all lies between heaven and hell?” There is no clear answer to these questions, but we agree to stay a while and humor him some more. It seems as if this deep forest of thought might have a clearing ahead, but almost in an instant you feel as if Shauf has fallen into a trance, predicting his own future: “I will die a poor man, covered in dust, dreaming of you…” With that, Shauf is then baptized into the chief role of The Bearer Of Bad News.
With his budding mind, Shauf paves the way into the sonic space of the long-awaited “Wendell Walker.” It doesn’t need much instrumentation to paint the picture of an affair, doomed from the start. The music embraces the lyrics and merely creates a backdrop to honor the story. It is with this song that Shauf associates himself even more strongly with “the bearer,” and we don’t know whether to listen as an audience or find ourselves a part of “the room [he has] created.”
Tracks 7, 8, and 9 act as a brief movement away from the heavy theme of the previous song; they’re easier to digest, even though they’re equally as somber. “The Man On Stage” paints a bittersweet picture of a young man pouring his heart out for others. Musically, it makes its way out of the whirling suspense and into something a bit more reminiscent of Shauf’s first full-length record, Darker Days. The next song, “Jesus, She’s A Good Girl,” recalls some of the uncertainty found in Shauf’s older work. His words “Why you always call me a liar, when I’m trying to tell the truth?” sound less like a question and more like a comment. Perhaps this is how many of us feel when we are tired of our hearts being broken by those who we trust.
The ninth track, “Lick Your Wounds,” is almost like a refrain for the doubting mind of the narrator, an opportunity for the storyteller to just let go and say what’s on his mind. However, his words are proclaimed in an incoherent way, much like someone venting to a psycho-therapist, so that what you hear are a bunch of thoughts that can only nudge at their meanings. The song inspires images of Shauf sitting in an empty room, melodically ranting to himself in his self-prescribed loneliness until he is once again rehabilitated.
The album’s final track, “My Dear Helen,” is possibly the saddest story Shauf has to tell, but it’s told with a freedom that allows the listener to depart from the heavier themes. The shaky, ghostlike vocals full of doubt and despair lead you to believe that this is just another tale, clever but fleeting. That is, until you realize the significance of the tale…the most dreadful twist you can imagine. It takes a couple listens to “get” what the song is about. Hint: The connection lies between the last two tracks…
The Bearer Of Bad News is the official declaration by Shauf that he is not only the skinny framed and charming songster from the prairie (Regina, Canada), but he is also a heavyweight storyteller who is capable of narrating. Woven in between the tales are the honest feelings of one who is burdened by the due subsequence of a modern raconteur.
Andy Shauf is releasing The Bearer Of Bad News on November 6.