Dissecting the lyrics to the gifted songwriter’s excellent new LP, despite sharing its title with Taylor Swift
Artists that dwell on depression don’t tend to be the most engaging. Granted, there are exceptions. Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake quickly come to mind, although if you’re looking for a Saturday night soundtrack for a big wingding, you’d be best advised to find something a bit more upbeat. Save them for the morning after when it’s slow going all around.
So when Noah Gunderson, an artist not exactly known for being the life of the party, opts to open his new album, Lover, with a reference to Robin Williams, aptly titled “Robin Williams,” it doesn’t exactly bode well for a giddy good time:
“When I think of Robin Williams at the end of his rope
It makes no difference what you’re making, the reaper makes the final joke.”
Of course, there’s a lesson to be learned from that lyric. No matter how popular and successful people think you are, doubts and depression can plague us all. Indeed each of us has a limited time on the planet, and when that time is up it matters little if you’re a successful superstar or just an ordinary Joe — or Josefina — desperately trying to scratch out a means of survival.
As if to drive the point home, Gunderson offers these lonely little lines on the song that follows, “Crystal Creek”:
“Just a simple little sadness
Is it wrong? Is it bad?
You were looking for a meaning
Out in the crystal in the creek…”
Ah, so what is the meaning of it all? To his credit, Gunderson doesn’t offer any explanation. Instead he simply describes the circumstance, engraining the mood of the music with a low-key atmospheric ambiance that serves as an apt aural reference for his darker designs. The tenuous tone isn’t dashed until the fourth song in, the despondently dubbed “Lose You,” but even with its playful tempo and predominant pop mix, the song conveys a feel that’s flush with decided desperation.
If this description paints a somewhat sobering picture, well, that’s apparently what Gunderson intended. And given that we live in a world where misery and mayhem seem to dominate the news cycle these days, it’s hardly out of the ordinary. Those artists that tend to celebrate mirth and merriment are often the most transitory. If nothing else, Gunderson’s analytical expression is often aimed solely at himself. Take the case of “Audrey Hepburn,” another song that name drops a celebrity but points the finger elsewhere.
“Underneath your blankets you were too involved to see,
There were seven shards of bad luck, and they all looked like me.”
Gunderson’s self-effacing attitude aside, there’s ample fascination found in these songs as well. He colors his arrangements with laters of ambiance and atmospheric treatments, making for layers of tones and textures that boast a hypnotic allure that’s difficult to define, but even harder to resist. It elevates the proceedings and gives the album a flourish and fascination that offsets the haunting, harrowing sensibility that dogs the album overall.
Lover can make for a difficult proposition at times, but like all objects of desire, it’s well worth digging ever deeper to get to the source of satisfaction.
VIDEO: Noah Gundersen – “Lover” (Official Video)