Andy Shauf - Norm (Anti)

Andy Shauf – Norm (Anti)

Imagine you are sitting in a local café on a Sunday afternoon. Among the sounds of newspaper pages turning and the chime of cutlery is some breezy and calm singer-songwriter-style folk coming out of the speakers of the café’s radio. Soft strokes of acoustic guitar, accompanied by pretty piano, sparkling synthesizer and an atmosphere of dinner jazz. This trustworthy would-take-home-to-your-parents male voice that you are proudly convinced sounds like Paul Simon guides you through the songs about love. You think it would be good pleasant background music for the mundane activities that you have persistently procrastinated over for the weekend, so you Shazam it for later listening. Then you discover the music’s lyrics about love are not as harmless or orthodox as you thought. On the surface and to the casual listener Canadian musician Andy Shauf’s masterfully deceitful eighth album Norm is, well, to borrow from the album title, normal.  

However, like the David Lynch film Mulholland Drive – of which Shauf is inspired by, lurking deep within its kind aura is a sinister true-crime-inspired fictional story. A tragic tale of misunderstanding the meaning of love and coincidence and how an unnamed victim pays the ultimate price for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  

The story of Norm is told from the perspective of three beings that could be as seen as embodying selfishness:  1) a creepy stalker called Norm, 2) the self-interested ex-boyfriend of the victim and 3) the omnipresent yet half-interested God. Listen to the album chronologically from start to finish because the story has revealing twists and turns, which are helped by the fact that the unifying nature of Shauf’s serene folk makes the album feel like one singular piece of art. The leisurely pace of Norm’s songs also portrays the realistic cautious approach that the stalker may have when tip-toeingly planning an attack over time, as well as the realistic it-could-happen-to-anyone scenario, as opposed to over-dramatical music that usually accompanies a movie thriller. Add to the fact that the victim is never named or given a perspective, as if she is just another forgotten missing person, gone but the daily winds of life continue to breeze.  

The stalker Norm’s increasingly delusional perspective of falling in love is told on ‘Catch Your Eye’, ‘Telephone’ and ‘Halloween Store’. What starts as a perverted fascination with a female stranger, along with hallucinations and misreading circumstances, eventually leads to the creep giving in to his temptations. He hesitantly attempts to get the victim’s attention at the local supermarket on ‘Catch Your Eye’ – Andy Shauf’s shy personality shines through on this – before persistently calling the girl on ‘Telephone’. It’s unclear how much of this is in Norm’s head, as he supposedly states that has phone conversations with her and how he has actually met her at the store, when in reality he is secretly outside of her window observing how “you always looked confused. Then you’d turn and close the binds”. Following on is ‘Halloween Store’, which is the pinnacle moment in Norm’s story, as it tells the moment in which the victim accepts a ride from her stalker and disappears without a trace. 

It is also the first time on Andy Shauf’s album in which we are introduced to the victim’s ex-lover, whose decision to play a prank on his girlfriend by towing her car away leads to the stalker having a coincidental opportunity to carry out his plan. His egotistical perspective on love is showcased in the final chapter of the album (‘Sunset’, ‘Daydream Daydreaming’ and ‘Long Throw’) as he wonders why she hasn’t been answering her phone or turning up to their Halloween party. She may be screaming for help somewhere but all he cares about is the possibility of him being the victim of ghosting. “Made me think about that time. When I towed your car just out of view. Then watched you confused. When you came out of the store”. 

As intriguing as the two aforementioned narcissistic humans are, perhaps the most important character in Norm is God himself and how he observes the stalker and how helps and doesn’t help the tragedy from happening. Andy Shauf had a Christian upbringing but rejected the religion in his twenties and this could be a commentary on this. God is obsessed with the idea that humans need to show love to him to gain entry into the pearly gates, as admitted on the opener ‘Wasted On You’, so on ‘You Didn’t See,’ he helps the peeping tom Norm hide behind a tree by obscuring his presence behind dark weather because God believes Norm loves him. Furthermore, he idly watches Norm creep closer to his victim in ‘Paradise Cinema”. When the penny drops off of Norm’s true nature, he tells Norm to stop what he is doing on the title track but only in a vague dream, which in the end is an act that’s in vain.  

Norms climaxes with ‘Don’t Let It Get To You’ and ‘All Of My Love’. Two tracks show the non-plussed care of God, his twisted view of love and how the cyclical nature of the whole incident will happen again. As ‘All Of My Love’ sounds like the album opener, the album could be played in a loop, conceptualizing that there will be other normal-appearing Norms, other selfish ex-partners and other helpless murder victims. And yet the café’s radio could play the album endlessly with listeners none the wiser to the record’s true meaning. 

Andy Shauf – Norm (Anti)

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.