15. Andy Shauf, The Party (Arts & Crafts)
Man, was I a fool to ever wonder if Andy Shauf was a little overrated. That was before The Party came out, and over the course of nearly the entire year, this cozy little concept album wriggled more and more into my subconscious. The best thing to ever come out of Bienfait, Saskatchewan (locals pronounce it “bean fate”), Shauf has become such a sterling songwriter at so young an age, and The Party fits right alongside any of the classic singer-songwriter fare from the ‘70s, from Jackson Browne to Gilbert O’Sullivan. His music feels so comfortable, enough to make you feel like you could flop right into one of his songs like a big old poofy recliner. The musical references are so smart – his “Admiral Halsey” homage in “Twist Your Ankle” was intentional – and his lyrics, which are partially obscured by his oddly charming, marble-mouthed phrasing, paint a beautiful portrait of a smalltown house party. It works very much like a Robert Altman movie, with many protagonists and recurring supporting characters, and though it might seem like a jumble at first, in the end you’re left with the realization that you were given a very perceptive, compassionate, dryly humourous glimpse of a small group of people. Shauf comes across as a painfully shy guy, both in public and in concert, and on The Party you can tell that he relishes being the “observer” rather than the life of the party. He sits back, watches everything unfold, and captures it in musical and lyrical form thanks to his vivid imagination. No, this young fella is an extraordinary talent, and this album is a near-masterpiece.