Andy Shauf is a songwriter who can find memorable stories in places most people would never bother to look. On 2016's The Party, he created a compelling and powerful song cycle from the interactions of the guests at a party in a small Canadian town. The album won enough acclaim to be short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize, and four years later Shauf has come out with a similarly memorable follow-up, Neon Skyline. Another concept piece, Neon Skyline is built around an equally humble framework -- a guy goes to the bar to drink a few beers with his buddy, learns his old girlfriend is in town for a visit, and as he starts to get lost in memories, the woman in question shows up. As a lyricist, Shauf has a superb ear for the rhythm of conversations and the inner lives of people whose ambitions never grew enough to take them out of the confines of their hometown. There's a naturalism to these songs that can register as funny, sad, or poignant as the night wears on, and his voice -- somewhere between Ron Sexsmith and Josh Ritter -- is pitched at just the right spot between the ordinary and the expressive. With his dour but easygoing melodies built around subtle guitar lines, unfussy but eloquent piano work, and the sad whispers of woodwinds, Shauf's music is an artful fusion of indie rock and smart contemporary folk with a glimmer of the sort of sadly pretty pop music that was a presence in Canadian Content radio of the '70s. Shauf played all the instruments on Neon Skyline as well as engineering and producing the sessions (Rob Schnapf was brought in to mix), and his record-making skills are to be reckoned with; there's barely a wrong move or a wasted gesture to be found in these 11 tracks, and for all its subtlety, there are several moments on Neon Skyline that can break your heart or make you gasp with recognition. Quite simply, there are precious few indie songwriters who can impress as easily as Andy Shauf, and Neon Skyline is the work of an artist delivering on their significant promise.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming