A song built lyrically around intertwined metaphors of burning, “Slow Dancer” opens Noah Gundersen’s new album and announces Gundersen’s deep explorations of religious and relationship struggles. “Light me up again / If it makes you feel free / Light me up again / Call me a snake and a liar,” he sings, but different from most pop songs, Gundersen will not explain why the relationship ended, nor say that he is looking for forgiveness or trying to make amends. Nor is he, in any way, judgmental of his former love.
Exhibiting modestly more complex textures and less twang than his 2014 debut, Ledges, Noah Gundersen's second full-length album, Carry the Ghost, offers an increase in personnel and mixing by Phil Ek (Father John Misty, Guster), resulting in a slightly edgier, more indie folk-sounding landscape. Still profoundly intimate but less whispery overall than Ledges, the solemn-voiced singer/songwriter still takes it down to a regretful murmur on "Silver Bracelet" ("Kissing my mouth like you wanted to/Back before the money took its toll") and for much of the critically self-examining "Selfish Art" ("Most of my songs are true/Most of my songs are due to some broken people/So I could write a single"), a rangy acoustic-guitar ballad with the potential to be a show-stopping encore on the road. "Empty from the Start" isn't as quiet but rather elegant, with female harmony, simple arpeggiated acoustic guitar, and eventually piano ("This is all we have/This is all we are/Blood and bones no Holy Ghost/Empty from the start").
With his pointed folk sensibilities and his familial gospel thrust, this Olympia, Wash., singer/songwriter is always filled with good intentions and quiet intensity. A holy softness marks his secular work (think of Noah Gundersen as you would a male Leyla McCalla), and its lyrical touchstones include love lost and hope abandoned and renewed. With Carry The Ghost, however, Gundersen applies his flat, sandy voice (Jackson Browne-ish, to be sure) to more existential lyrical matters and pulsing, syncopated sounds.
Forlorn troubadours never seem to go out of style. Whether it’s a teen sensation wailing about losing a lover and crying in the chapel, or a forever downtrodden folkie of Nick Drake’s ilk, loss and lament have always been ideal song fodder. It’s not always the most inspiring subject matter but it does seem bountiful given the fact that, as human beings, disappointment and sadness seem inbred into our DNA.