One of the coolest feelings in the world to me is being blown away by a piece of music on the very first listen, but I think it’s even more special (and rare) to find a quality piece of music and become more enthralled with it upon each successive listen. Noah Gundersen is one of few such songwriters to consistently do that for me. Two years ago he released the masterpiece White Noise, a record that I liked immediately but didn’t fully appreciate until months later, so much in fact that it ended up my album of the year for 2017. Needless to say, it’s no surprise to me that his full-length follow up Lover already feels eerily similar in that regard.
This is very much true of the record as a whole, and perhaps the best example of this that I could find is the powerful lead single that also doubles as the album opener. “Robin Williams” is a track that initially struck me as impressive but borderline underwhelming, and yet, that doesn’t make much sense looking back on it now. After all, who else can write a song that grabs you as much as this one does, all the while completely leaving out any semblance of a chorus? Not to mention the fact that virtually every lyric here is a clever, easily quotable one-liner—a trend that holds true for much of the album. To me it’s another testament to the genius of a songwriter that Gundersen is, and that’s just on the opening track!
Where White Noise felt more holistic as an overall body of work, Lover covers quite a bit more ground stylistically: from the more stripped-down, folksier-leaning approach taken on cuts such as the aforementioned opener and “Wild Horses,” to the vibey maximalism present on the album highlights, to even the fun pop feel found on “All My Friends,” this is easily the most diverse Noah Gundersen record I’ve ever heard. The Seattle native somehow achieves all this without sacrificing an ounce of cohesiveness (several of the songs flow right into one another), often while in the process blowing me away with the quality of the music here.
As diverse as Lover is, many of my favorite moments from the album tend to have this sort of atmospheric, maximalistic vibe, like the haunting yet far-too-brief cuts “Crystal Creek” and “Little Cup,” the soaring title track, or the echoing vocal effects that complement the drum groove of “Older” surprisingly well. Of course, I would be remiss to leave out the pinnacle of the whole thing: the trippy, incredibly dynamic “Out of Time.” Here, a simple drum cadence and subtle riff hold everything together. Meanwhile, the chilling strings from sister Abby stay firmly planted in the song’s forefront, even near its end when the synths cut loose to give off this nasty sonic effect. The constant rise and fall here is far too prominent to ignore, and it’s just one of the reasons why I’d argue that “Out of Time” is the strongest song Gundersen has written to date. This particular cut, not entirely unlike the album itself, is one I will be spinning for quite some time, long after everyone else moves onto the next new release.
I could likely rant and rave about this record for another several paragraphs. Suffice it to say, however, that even the tracks I didn’t mention all possess some sort of redeeming quality—as if the album didn’t need those already. Again, it’s a different beast entirely from 2017’s White Noise, rendering the comparison between the two moot. Thus, it’s tough to say whether I’ll like this newest effort more than its immediate predecessor in, say, a year. One thing I will say, though: on Lover, Noah Gundersen has no doubt penned some of the strongest material of his career, and isn’t that worth something?