Noah Gundersen made waves in 2014 with the release of his debut album “Ledges” but, despite touring extensively in support of the album, the 25 year old Seattle native was already thinking forward, writing new material on the road. The result, “Carry the Ghost”, will release Aug. 21 on Dualtone and it should cement Gundersen as a new artist to watch on the Americana scene.
While many Americana artists are going bigger in recent years, with driving banjos and hook driven choruses, Gundersen has staked his claim on the other end of the genre’s spectrum, stripping his music down about as far as can go. You’ll find nary a “hey”, a “ho”, or an earnestly repeated chorus on the album’s entire running length. In fact, you’ll probably have to turn up the volume on your listening device of choice while listening to “Carry the Ghost”. This is a quiet album, almost eerily so, but it’s a style that works perfectly with Gundersen’s world weary voice and heartbreaking lyrics.
The album’s opener, “Slow Dancer”, begins with a hauntingly sparse piano solo, before Gundersen’s voice whispers in, telling tales of a woman who “watched the valley burn like a slow dancer doing turns.” Then, just as he reaches the end of the first chorus, like a building fire, the electric guitar crashes in and you get the first of many glimpses of Gundersen’s Seattle roots on “Carry the Ghost.” While about as far from that region’s signature grunge rock sound as can be, “Carry the Ghost” is undoubtedly a Seattle album. Recorded at Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard’s Litho Studio, “Carry the Ghost” is saturated with the overcast skies the region, and its music, are known for.
But that doesn’t mean “Carry the Ghost” is a top to bottom downer. Like the title suggests, the primary theme of the album is learning to accept the hand that you’re dealt, to carry the ghosts you can’t walk away from and learn to live. That hard won acceptance is best on display on album standout “Show Me the Light”, where Gundersen looks to an old love and declares “Now that I’m older, I finally see, you were the worst and best thing that happened to me.” On “Selfish Art”, Gundersen shows his struggle to maintain authenticity while chasing success. Starting out with “Sometimes making songs for a living feels like living to make songs. And sometimes I get an uneasy feeling I’m doing something wrong.” But again, he comes to acceptance, finishing with “Am I giving all I can give, am I earning the right to live by looking in the mirror? There’s nothing more sincere than selfish art.”
No one is going to confuse “Carry the Ghost” for the feel good album of the summer. If that’s what you’re looking for, you will be sorely disappointed and more than a little depressed. But for fans of raw, unvarnished, no holds barred life with all its warts, “Carry the Ghost” is more than worth a download.