Andy Shauf
Photo: Angela Lewis via Pitch Perfect

Andy Schauf Uses ‘Norm’ to Ask About Love After Death

Andy Schauf’s Norm offers journeys down sonic trails that start in the same hallway but change from room to room as he ponders the big topic of love.

Andy Schauf
10 February 2023

Andy Schauf enjoys a reputation as the composer of story songs that utilize contemporary fictional techniques to reveal his characters’ internal thoughts and feelings. The listener gets inside the narrators’ heads, where the small details of life and deep feelings bump up against each other to reveal the complex interactions between our somewhat random thoughts and actions. We can be thinking of one thing and doing something unrelated when our imagination takes us elsewhere: like wondering if we locked the door to our apartment and seeing the person who is the object of our desire in the rear-view window and finding out we left the keys in the car’s ignition all in the same instant. They are all connected in our heads, even as it’s just an arbitrary moment in time like every other moment.

Norm is a concept album about a guy named Norm. According to Schauf, the tracks feature four different narrators advancing the story. The mysterious plot is far from clear, whether there is a beginning, middle, and end. His style is part Raymond Carver and part Raymond Chandler. That doesn’t matter. The sensation of incomprehension itself is part of the record’s charm. The music itself is suggestive, rapturous, mysterious, and mesmerizing. The lyrics set the mood. Each song works on its own. The connections between cuts may be vague, but they share an alluring magnetism.

Shauf wrote, recorded, and performed all of the songs. Every voice is his voice. While the music may seem as if an intimate jazz combo created it in a private setting, it is all just him. Sound engineer Neal Pogue (OutKast, Tyler the Creator) mixed the record. The instruments are clearly and crisply rendered: a clarinet riff here, a synth melody floating in the background, and drums picking up the beats while the vocals purposely lag. There is a sense of space to the whole aural presentation. Time itself often seems static in the best way, as the lack of urgency creates its own type of tension. It is like watching a movie by Alfred Hitchcock and watching the view of the man in the mirror rather than the man himself.

Speaking of films, Schauf said this album was influenced by watching David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Like that enigmatic movie, some of the best moments on Norm seem tangential to the tale—but are they? For example, there are many references to the period around Halloween when the story takes place. This adds a shadowy patina to what’s happening, but is there something spooky going on, or is it just the cryptic nature of everyday experience gone weird? Does it matter if one is followed on a clear, cool evening or a warm foggy one? Schauf provides descriptions that enhance the songs even if their purposes are more decorative than significant.

Norm has a latent sinister level; someone is being stalked, and there is the implication that something terrible will happen. The 12 tracks offer journeys down sonic trails that start in the same hallway but change from room to room. The overarching theme concerns the big topic of love. The opening “Wasted on You” and closing “All My Love” tracks address this from an otherworldly perspective, asking what happens to love after death. The answer is silence.

RATING 8 / 10