“This next song is about Christian guilt and nocturnal ejaculation,” Noah Gundersen candidly announces on stage at The Black Cat this past Saturday. The crowd laughs and yells, both taken aback and delighted. Yet, as Gundersen gets further and further into “Topless Dancer,” a stripped-down track that features only his voice and acoustic guitar, the previously rambunctious crowd falls completely silent. While there is no doubt that this song is about exactly what he’d promised, there is also no doubt in its beauty – beauty in the honesty, in Gundersen’s unapologetic approach, certainly beauty in the music itself.
Noah Gundersen’s third album, Carry the Ghost, is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the singer/songwriter, complete with disarming crescendoes, delicate harmonies, and poignant lyrics. While this album is so characteristically Gundersen, in no way is it trite. Compared to his first two works – Family and Ledges – Carry the Ghost pulls no punches. The songs seem to hold more weight; there seems to be more conviction in the words, more confidence in the instrumentals – an overall maturity.
The music is less static. Gundersen abandons his previously mellow, all-acoustic sound for more synth, more distortion, and more percussion. Even his slower songs seem to have a strong pulse (see “Difference.”) From the crashing transitions on “Slow Dancer” to the haunting seven minutes of raw vocals that is “Heartbreaker,” this album will stay with you.
Unabashed as they are beautiful, Gundersen’s lyrics have always been the tour de force of his music. This album, however, transcends the label of merely “poetic” and instead serves as a candid and truthful discussion of love, religious skepticism, and the craft itself. On tracks like “Empty From The Start,” Gundersen foregoes his typical subtleties for lines like: “Cause this is all we have/ This is all we are/ blood and bones, no Holy Ghost/ empty from the start.” He goes on to say “To truly love someone’s the closest I have come to truth.” In these songs, Gundersen has found such a profound security in his own beliefs; his choice to share these beliefs with us doesn’t feel aggressive or pontifical, but instead more intimate than anything else he has created.
And that is the difference with Carry the Ghost: Noah Gundersen has found his voice, and I promise it’s worth listening to.