“The Neon Skyline” Album Review

By Carolina Garibay

This one is for those who have reminisced about broken relationships and dreamt of scenarios where things could have turned out alright. This one is for those who are surrounded by people, yet can’t help but feel alone. This one is for the lost and the heartbroken poets.

Released on January 24, Andy Shauf invites listeners to join him on a melancholic, indie-folk odyssey in his sixth album “The Neon Skyline.” In a similar vein to Shauf’s 2016 record, “The Party,” this record is set up as a concept album, chronicling the night of a narrator as he tells his friends, “Come to the Skyline, I’ll be washing my sins away.” What follows for the next 35 minutes throughout 11 songs is a litany of odes that exposes listeners to a world of anguish, all underlined by a bright acoustic guitar and Shauf’s reverb-adorned vocals.

Perhaps what Shauf displays best on “The Neon Skyline” is his ability to dance a fine line between poetry, storytelling and songwriting. In the opening track “Neon Skyline,” Shauf introduces characters Charlie, Rose and Judy who all reappear throughout the album. These people pull listeners into the atmosphere Shauf has crafted as The Narrator aloofly bides time with Charlie and Rose and serves them drinks. In the following track, “Where Are You Judy,” The Narrator strays away from the physical realm of Skyline and delves into his personal memoirs regarding his ex, Judy.

This relationship shows its cracks by the fourth track “Thirteen Hours,” where a car accident puts the two partners in a hospital and they affront one another saying, “If you weren’t such a cheap bastard, I’d be at home.” The overarching narrative climaxes when Judy enters Skyline in track eight, “The Moon.” Shauf brings a palpable sense of anxiety as the strumming acoustic guitar becomes slower and softer, resulting in a noticeable vulnerability as he sings, “That old feeling pours over me / Reaches to the pit of my stomach, so I reach for her hand.”

Musically, “The Neon Skyline” is relatively thin. Besides the almost omnipresent acoustic guitar, drum set, electric piano and vocal combo, tracks such as “Where Are You Judy” and “Things I Do” are embellished with ethereal clarinets and rhythmic electric bass. The simplicity of the instrumentation creates an intimacy highlighting Shauf’s vocals. In some tracks, such as the opener, however, the master seems to just put every instrument at “loud” making it easy to develop a headache trying to make sense of everything that is going on. The tone of the lyrics and music are also at a bit of a mismatch for most of the songs, which does not help.

The overall mood of the tunes is upbeat despite the story being so sentimental throughout. Additionally, each melodic cadence doesn’t resolve in the way one would expect it to, which, though could accentuate the confusion The Narrator feels throughout, also runs the risk of making these strains sound awkward. The melodies become more satisfying by the eighth track “The Moon,” though, and, thankfully, Shauf makes a smooth transition between the dodgy, oddly bright sounding first seven tracks to this one.

Ultimately, “The Neon Skyline” is a lyrically driven album. Although it offers nothing too exciting sonically, Andy Shauf’s aptitude for composing a story one can become engaged in and empathize with similar to the style of Elliott Smith or Wilco is exceptional. As such, this record is for rainy days and emotional nights.