By now, Andy Shauf has become an expert in the concept album, and his latest, Norm, shows what a compelling songwriter, musician can accomplish, when they study the best and wittiest and most unsettling cinema being produced these days. Starting and ending with the God-centered quote, “was all of My love wasted on you?”, Shauf is able to take a deep look into the “wicked ways” of the human heart, but it’s not at all what you would expect.
Without giving too much away (this an album to experience not expound upon), Norm could be Norman Bates, yes, but Norm is more likely a play on the abridgment of the word “normal.” Shauf showed us in his previous concept albums, A and B, The Neon Skyline and Wilds, that he knew the beautiful complexity of love and love stories. But this one, in something of a commentary on modern man, is a bit one-sided.
The songs, on which Andy plays all of the instruments, are each adorned with his familiar lilt, in both voice and instrumentation. He takes his brilliant writing and finds the perfect next note, the perfect harmony and clarinet or trombone slide. It’s wonderfully constructed music, in its own right. But the real power, if you can believe it, is less in his composition than his storytelling. Bringing us along in his twisted, fascinating mind: each song like a new episode of a TV miniseries thought up by a more subtle Hitchcock, a less gothy Burton, a more disturbed Wes Anderson.
What starts as a commentary on God’s love, in the first song, ends up being a commentary on how we frame God in our malformed consciences (something that is par for the course for Shauf). By the end, you’re reeling, wondering how one person can upend such grand and often sacharine topics as love, trust, and the search for human companionship. All of Shauf’s love was not wasted in the making of this album, something worthy of deep consideration and multiple re-listens. Andy Shauf has done it again.
Pre-order Norm by Andy Shauf HERE
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