Album Review: Noah Gundersen - 'White Noise'
“White Noise is a sensory overload. Fear, anxiety, desire, sex, lust, love. White Noise is a 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.”
It has been two years since the release of Noah Gundersen’s last album, Carry The Ghost. Since then he has experienced life, struggled with authenticity, and matured as an artist. “At the start of 2016, I walked on stage and was met with a feeling of overwhelming emptiness,” Gundersen shared. “I imagined a career playing music I didn’t believe in and was terrified.” The Seattle native is now back with his third studio album, White Noise. The album presents a bolder sound than his previous works, exploring themes of love and loss, life and death, fear and peace. Gundersen combines vulnerable lyrics with atmospheric instrumentals to create a compelling, honest, and introspective body of work.
The album opens with the calm, mysterious guitar riffs of “After All,” before meeting Gundersen’s vocals to create a peacefully ominous experience. The slow build starts to pick up its stride with “The Sound” as vocals soar over synth and guitar. Gundersen’s lyrical genius shows through in this one, with my favorite line: “Just a pain-in-the-ass Johnny Cash middle finger / No shooting up drugs / No quitter is a winner.” The album then plunges into one of the strongest songs on the album, “Heavy Metals , which explores Gundersen’s existential anxieties and the struggle to learn our purpose in this life. The lyrics, “Only infinite black space / Three words on the whole page / All your life,” echoe over melodic reverb to create a cinematic masterpiece.
The upbeat vibe of “Number One Hit Of The Summer” provides a pleasant contrast to the darker songs on the album. This is definitely one to be played full-volume in the car next summer as you let the wind slip through your fingers. However, the album diverts from the light, jaunty sound and immerses into a darker atmosphere of “Cocaine, Sex, And Alcohol (From A Basement In LA).” Noah Gundersen’s fear and anxiety present themselves as he sings, “Everyone’s watching / Get me out of the light.” The song changes abruptly, as Gundersen drunkenly mutters, “I’ve got all this alcohol / Do you want to see my show?” over erratic and unhinged instrumentals. The song seems to go along with Gundersen’s fears of remaining authentic while everyone’s watching.
“Bad Actors” hits on a more soothing note with pulse-like beats set to gentle piano, exploring the themes of lust and desire. Gundersen put his storytelling capabilities to work in “Fear & Loathing”, which tells the tale of a forsaken town. Acoustic guitar and a powerful storyline come together to create an intimate piece. The lyrics, “No one gets a break in this town / They’re closing all the local joints down / There’s nothing left for us here now / In fear & loathing,” express the honest truth that the reality of our society affects everyone, even the “quarterbacks” and “prom queens.” The drums and atmospheric violin in “Sweet Talker” provides the song with an interesting diversity from the earlier half of the album.
Following an instrumental fade out, White Noise continues strongly on with “New Religion.” Piecing together pacifying piano chords with intimate and burning lyrics, Gundersen vulnerably speaks of love and loss. “All I want is something to love / All I want is someone to love me” he sings. The album continues with the relatable themes as it dives into “Bad Desire.” The lyrics speak of a man indecisive and pondering the end of a relationship, and his desire to see her once more. “Hold on, I'm coming home / You're giving me a bad desire / You're giving me a burning fire, in my bones / And I wanna see you tonight one last time.”
Diverting from themes of love and loss, “Wake Me Up I’m Drowning” sends the listener spiraling into Gundersen’s own nightmare. Stress and terror fill his voice as he sings, “It’s just a dream I’m drowning / Wake me up / Wake me up / I’m dreaming and I can’t swim / Wake me up / Wake me up, again.” Piano builds with chilling sounds and rising water to continue to build anxiety. Although alarming, the song is perhaps the best written on the album, and really portrays the introspective elements of the album. “Dry Year” follows Gundersen’s anxieties as well, but with a calmer, acoustic sound. “Moving like shadows in a trance / Are these my feet going through the motions / Are these my feet attempting to dance?” he asks as he ponders his uncertainties and his destiny.
The album closes out with a slow, intimate ballad touching on mortality and loss. “Send The Rain (To Everyone)” acts as the calm at the end of the storm, and is a pleasant close to the emotion-packed album. White Noise is Gundersen’s boldest release yet. He beautifully combines all aspects of life to create an authentic and personal narrative that is still heavily relatable to the listener.
White Noise is out September 22 via Cooking Vinyl. Catch Noah Gundersen on his US tour this fall!