Like the long, cold prairie winters during which it was recorded, Andy Shauf's sophomore LP, The Bearer of Bad News, is both grim and beautiful, bearing the kind of weary warmth of a bedroom lamp lit after a five p.m. sunset. Recorded in his basement in Regina, Saskatchewan over the course of two years and written over four, it has the deep, refined feeling of being worked on, but not overworked. The 11 tracks here are decidedly rustic at heart, with a hushed, Spartan feeling akin to early Elliott Smith albums, an acknowledged influence of Shauf's. The vision is singular, with Shauf supplying all the vocals and instrumentation save for drums on one track. From the dead-string strumming of the buoyant opener "Hometown Hero" to the foreboding creep of "Wendell Walker," he paints a descriptive picture of small-town life and lonesome folks looking inward with desolate lines like "Now this past winter was the coldest in years/It's hard to explain if you've never lived here." Shauf's brand of Canadiana is rooted in folk music, but the sophistication of his arrangements reveals a keen pop sensibility that saves it from wallowing too deeply in the sepia-toned doldrums. His clever and often dissonant clarinet and string orchestrations on songs like "I'm Not Falling Asleep" and "The Man on Stage" add a richness of color that belies the album's generally somber tone. The Bearer of Bad News may be a sad, introspective album, but Shauf's lyrical poeticism and multidimensional musicality are what sets it apart from others of its ilk.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger