Wilds [Limited Translucent Blue]
Because it’s not beholden to some overarching conceit, the latest album from the Toronto-based singer-songwriter sounds looser, a bit wilder, more lackadaisical in a sadsack sort of way.Andy Shauf’s most recent records were concept albums about social anxiety, vividly conceived and self-contained. In 2016, the Saskatchewan-born, Toronto-based singer-songwriter released The Party, a collection of songs all set at the same get-together and filled with awkward encounters and bouts of crippling self-doubt. His follow-up, 2020’s The Neon Skyline, sat with the denizens of his favorite bar for one night, eavesdropping on their conversations and laughing at their tortured pick-up lines. Both have gained added poignancy now that such gatherings are much more fraught. Wilds, his surprise-released new album, was originally intended to take a similar shape: he wrote a handful of songs that followed the Skyline barflies forward a few years, just to see where their lives took them. He soon abandoned that idea and instead started writing about one character’s ex-girlfriend, a woman named Judy. But that longer character study got scrapped, too.
Wilds combines those two ideas into something that’s neither/nor. It’s not strictly a sequel, but it’s not completely unrelated either. It’s all part of the Andy Shauf Extended Universe. Despite such tortured origins, the album works surprisingly well. Because it’s beholden to no overarching conceit, the music sounds looser, a bit wilder, more lackadaisical in a sadsack sort of way, its arc less predetermined and its themes emerging more organically. By ceding control, Shauf allows the songs to wander wherever they want, paying their tab at the Skyline and heading out into the world.