Music Review: Lover
It is hard for me to write down the way this album (Noah Gundersen's fourth full-length solo record, out August 23rd, much to the confusion of angry T-Swizzle fans) makes me feel.
I maintain that he is not my type, it's not my favorite kind of voice, these aren't even the kinds of songs I like, and yet here we are, I've spent almost 2 years listening mostly to him. The Year of Gundersen has stretched into Two Years of Gundersen, and I ain't mad about it. But these FEELINGS! This music should come with a warning label: if you, like me, spend most of your time alone in the car, CONSUME WITH CAUTION. I say this as someone who, against legal counsel and doctor's advice, has probably already listened to his new album, Lover, north of 75 times in 12 days.
[Language warning: Watermelon, Out of Time, Older, Wild Horses, and Kamikaze are all explicit.]
Robin Williams opens with a shimmer and a crunch that reminds me of the era of Ryan Adams that I loved. This sets the sonic tone for the rest of the album: wheeling, spacey notes, layered vocals, absolutely haunting lyrics. This is the song on the album that, despite being completely stylistically different, makes me think about Dylan.
Crystal Creek is short and haunting, one big unanswered question. Starting to lean into the beats here, more vocal effects.
Lover is the single that got me. The Friday morning this dropped, my alarm went off at 8 am, the first thing I did was pull this up, and yes, I was sobbing 30 seconds in. What a huge departure from anything else he's ever done, and yet, the songwriting and the voice are the same. It's like seeing a new and wonderful side of someone you thought you'd already seen everything from.
Watermelon starts off softly: gentle piano and guitar, and this whooshing backbeat that reminds me of a heartbeat on a monitor. The absolute clarity of his voice makes these lyrics stand out. I've said it before and I'll say it again: HE DOES INTERNAL RHYME SO WELL IT'S DISGUSTING. This is perhaps the track on the album closest to the earlier acoustic sound, if that's what you're looking for.
Lose You is the single that's going to (rightly) get lots of attention and airtime. It sounds incredibly trendy, but underpinned by lyrics that will appeal to pretty much everyone. We've all been there. There's a lot going on, but it's gorgeous.
Out of Time is an immediate shift in moods—this is dark, this is sexy. He says it was inspired by Beck—I've been thinking about that a lot, and I hear it (Midnite Vultures-era Beck was good Beck). But I also hear Radiohead, and Muse. Violin featuring more heavily here, layered voice pushed down to its lowest, raising to its highest. His falsetto is fantastic. This might be the track I am most looking forward to hearing live.
Audrey Hepburn shifts again into sadness. The word that comes to mind most is "abandoned"—from the opening notes, this feels like a haunted house. Creaks, groans, scrapes: it aches. This has the most audible harmonies so far, and it's notably not Abby Gundersen, who has provided harmonies on pretty much every other album.
Older is a sobering-up from the last track. This is the buzz wearing off, this is the anxiety attack. It is wintry and grim and reminds me strongly of the latter half of Keane's "Hopes and Fears" album.
Wild Horses starts off like a pretty typical Gundersen song, then veers sharply into Bon Iver territory. It's ALL over the track, and I love it. If one Noah is good, then 7 or 8 Noahs singing is a hell of a way to go.
So What might be my favorite. This is the one that speaks to me the most—the one that made me wonder what the alternate universe would be like where Noah didn't apostatize and instead ended up as a worship leader at some kind of emergent church. Yes, I raise my hands during whatever those noises are. I can't help it.
Little Cup is awash in vinyl noise: the static crackling so much I want to reach out and fix it. Again, there is a sense of space, of isolation, like walking into an empty factory building to find a record skipping on a turntable in the middle of the room.
All My Friends is happy and upbeat and essentially just about being drunk and getting high. It's not my favorite, but I probably listened to it 35 or 40 times before I started skipping it. This is just not where I'm at right now, but it'd be a bop on a party playlist.
And then we're back into introspection with Kamikaze Love. More soaring, wailing violin, the bizarre touch of a harp, the big quiet, the small voice after everything else the album touches on. It's masterful.
This album is a lifer. We are not worthy. If you're new to Noah, start here, work backwards. If you're well-acquainted with Noah, enjoy this new glimpse at what he brings to the table. And once again: give thanks in your prayers that we are in a timeline where we get music like this given to us.