It’s certainly an interesting prospect, a debut album from Canadian college room-mates and childhood school friends that’s been ten years in the making and has finally come to fruition. To be honest, this album came as a complete surprise to me, and that’s as someone who has been obsessively listening to the main singer-songwriter, Andy Shauf’s last two solo albums, The Party and The Bearer Of Bad News. Searching for news of new material I found an interview with Shauf in the Toronto Star, where he talked about making The Party. He abandoned initial sessions with a band to start afresh, playing all the instruments himself. Shauf said he’d realised, “It doesn’t work for me to work with other people”, so it was strange to discover he’s had this project on the back-burner the whole time.
Listening to Foxwarren it’s obvious that this band are not simply some B-team shuffled out in down time between Shauf records. With Dallas Bryson (guitar/vocals) and brothers Darryl Kissick (bass) and Avery Kissick (drums and percussion), the meticulous perfectionism of Shauf’s songwriting gains some breathing room without losing any attention to detail. This gorgeous set of tracks explores a wider range of feels and grooves than we’ve come to expect. The noirish krautrock pulse of ‘Everything Apart’ isn’t an immediately obvious companion to something like ‘Your Small Town’, which sounds like Aimee Mann jamming with The Band, but it all holds together through his soft vocal and the precise arrangements throughout. Precise, but not as sparse as Shauf tends to boil things down to when he’s working alone. We’ve got some great extended intros, outros and instrumental passages, that linger pleasantly, creating a different atmosphere to Shauf’s melodic clarinet-heavy orchestration.
Foxwarren’s ten years of playing together have clearly caused a bit of cross-pollination though, evident in the tight and snappy drums and bass the Kissick brothers provide, often sounding uncannily like what we’d expect Shauf might play himself. These guys have clearly developed a musical vocabulary together with shared influences that are locked in the DNA of Andy’s music elsewhere, which makes Foxwarren often sound like it’s the natural follow-up to The Party, rather than a complete departure. Although there isn’t an overlying narrative that’s quickly obvious, and the album takes its side-turns here and there, exploring unexpected musical avenues simply for the hell of it, like the swampy sludgy shift at the end of ‘Fall Into A Dream’, where the band just seem to take a load off and lean into the psychedelic vibes of a slow burn jam.
The album ends with a real credits-roller of a song, ‘Give It a Chance’, cinematically driving us into the distance, before stripping to a gorgeous backdrop of vocals, harmonies and mellow tones, that lead us eventually to the twilight sound of a field of crickets. It’s another unexpected twist, an odd idea that many groups would discount, but here it’s executed beautifully, a gorgeous subtle ending to an album that’s both varied and harmonious; the sorts of qualities that keep a listener like me coming back for more. It will be interesting to see whether this is a blip on the course of Andy Shauf, the songwriter, or a new direction that he’s going to double down on. In the context of a band we’ve certainly gotten to see a different side, exploring some new textures and approaches, still conjuring musical magic tricks but with a different weight and feel.
In some ways though this ten song journey provides as much satisfaction as it teases us with potential. At times I feel like the album leans towards a Tame Impala-type approach, where song and soundscape are given equal breadth, but it never fully releases in those explorations. I find myself wondering what a Foxwarren album would sound like if they started from scratch, with minimal time to deliver a follow-up. For many groups that kind of pressure ends up being their undoing, but I suspect these guys could really deliver, if they ease off on the perfectionism a tiny touch. However, I linger on this thought for only a minute or two before I skip back to the start to play Foxwarren from the top again. It feels like the sort of album that’s hiding secrets which can only be revealed through repeated listens.