Seattle indie singer-songwriter Noah Gundersen released his third studio full-length album, White Noise, via Cooking Vinyl on Sept. 22.
The release verges on the edge of a concept album, with its inspiration and namesake being the idea of sensory overload — fear, anxiety, desire, lust, and love. “White Noise is the place between waking and dreaming, where the edges blur and the light is strange. It’s a car crash, it’s a drowning, it’s everything all the time,” Gundersen said.
Having seen Noah Gundersen’s name around a lot leading up to the release, I have to say I was not familiar with his previous work, or sounds. That being said, I can’t necessarily compare Gundersen’s sound prior to White Noise.
The stand-out radio-ready track on the album is “The Sound,” utilizing its storytelling elements and reference to “The Man in Black” himself, Johnny Cash. The vocals remind me of Nashville singer songwriter Dan Layus (Augustana).
Just a memory of a kid/Just a washed out finish/Just a pain in the ass, Johnny Cash middle finger.
There’s a grit and growl behind some of the words, adding extra emotion to an already vulnerable, tell-it-like-it-is track. How many times/ How many times do you shit on what you’re given.
Gundersen’s influences include some prolific music icons including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Tom Waits — and that roster inevitably means big shoes to fill. The bar is set high, if those were the artists you grew up listening to. That can also mean reality can fall short.
I’m still that person that sits down and listens to an album in its entirety, in order — cozying up to each track in its rightful order. Often an order that was so meticulously chosen, as to create a successful arc, developed characters, and a resolution. This album came out of a realization that Gundersen had when he discovered he was no longer making music he believed in. That’s a valiant epiphany, and kudos to the artist for stepping back, stripping down, and choosing to do things his way. If anything, that rings victorious even if every track wasn’t a hit. It wasn’t meant to be. It’s meant to be a breaking free from any previous chains, and other’s visions of what his music should be.
The third track, “Number One Hit of the Summer” ups the tempo, and brings a more rock ‘n’ roll feel to the record. The guitars sound vintage, and the tune definitely has a sun-shiney demeanor, perfect for warm-weather months. While its lyrics aren’t always so bright and cheery, the juxtaposition creates an interesting push and pull feel. Everybody’s watching you drown, so fade out/ Fade out.
Each song is fairly long for a modern-day release, the longest track, “Cocaine Sex and Alcohol” at 7:08. “Sweet Talker” is nearly six minutes long, and features higher-pitched vocals and harmonies reminiscent of the Beatles trippy-days. The tune has a ’60s acid-in-the-sunflower-fields kind of mood.
“New Religion” has a calming piano intro, moody vocals with a sort of Keane-like resemblance. Heartbreaking, yet somehow beautiful. All I want is something to love/All I want is something to love/All I want is someone to love me like I do. The song’s final buildup is impressive like a theatrical number.
“Bad Desire” has the feel of somber Sam Smith or James Morrison — the Kings of soulful swag-induced ballads. Except this one’s not from a Brit, and instead, has Southern gospel organs and an almost Americana/country twang to it. Little love drug needing/ You always make me feel/ Like for a minute, nothing here is wrong
The album finishes on a somber note — “Send the Rain (To Everyone). Death is coming/Carried on his crooked wings/I can’t do anything. Send the rain/Send my love/Send my love to everyone.
While White Noise might not seem cohesive in a traditional story-telling way, it certainly is a wide-ranging view of the versatility that Gundersen offers as an impressive singer-songwriter. For that, you certainly can’t fault him.