Search The Line of Best Fit
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Andy Shauf is still playing god on the shadowy Norm


Release date: 10 February 2023
Andy Shauf - Norm cover
10 February 2023, 00:00 Written by Andy Steiner

In a parallel universe, Andy Shauf would have been an excellent playwright. He works within scenes and settings.

2016’s The Party revolves around a cast of party guests and their self-conscious attempts at mingling; 2020’s The Neon Skyline is located at the local watering hole where your ex is around the corner. Once he’s done with set design, Shauf gets down to the real task: digging out his characters’ neuroses with sitcom-style irony.

Norm is his loosest and widest world yet. The record traces four characters, including the titular Norm, and their intertwining romantic obsessions, shame, and embarrassments. The real brilliance of Norm is the same as The Party or The Neon Skyline: its cringe-comedy presentation of awkward and disjointed moments between characters. With his rounded, Paul Simon-esque voice, Shauf soothes the high-voltage charge of the anxieties and discomforts he creates.

The most immediate highlight is “Halloween Store”. Accompanied by an acoustic strum and drum pat, the song’s narrator goes on a simple errand for a costume, only for the episode to transform into a stoned encounter with a crush. Shauf’s phrasing makes the moment light-hearted, but the chorus’s strings undercut this comedic tone with paranoia. “Halloween Store” is Norm’s most tangible song and its most specific depiction of the thin line between mundanity and drama.

Norm occupies this space between humour and anxiety. “Long Throw”'s opening stanza (“Only one in a costume / Isn’t that just how things work out / On our best days”) could narrate its character’s good-humoured mistake or red-cheeked embarrassment. “Telephone” could be achingly lovelorn or uncomfortably desperate. In Norm’s unsympathetic world, the distinction between the two depends on the scene.

While his previous records avoided this ambiguity, Shauf plays with imprecision on Norm. “You Didn’t See” is about stalking, but it’s blurred to the point of obscurity. He toys with orchestration, shifting our perception of the scene with airy synths on “Don’t Let It Get To You” or a brooding guitar line on “Daylight Dreaming.” This vagueness is a new element for Shauf, and it makes Norm an unexpectedly shadowy listen.

There’s no sense of resolution by the end of the record. Its characters could be equally pitiful as they are decent. Still, Andy Shauf’s talent for playing god to these little dioramas is as consistent as ever.

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