I’ve interviewed Noah Gundersen two times in the past and both conversations centered around his restlessness concerning his art. The first time I spoke with him, ahead of the release of 2015’s Carry the Ghost, he told me how his debut album, the previous year’s folk-steeped Ledges, no longer reflected who he was or the music he wanted to make. In 2017, when we chatted about his audacious, adventurous third LP White Noise, it was the songs from the spiritually fraught Ghost that he was ready to move on from. “I just think I’m perpetually dissatisfied, which can be really frustrating,” he said. “But it also drives my creativity and my desire to do better and to make things that are better than what I’ve made in the past.”
On his fourth record, titled Lover (and released on the same day as an album by Taylor Swift that shares the exact same name), Gundersen seems perhaps more comfortable with letting his restlessness slide than he ever has before. The collection is at once both unique from everything he’s ever made previously and packed with songs that call back to previous moments from his catalog. There are raw acoustic songs that feel ripped from the cloth of the traditionally-hewn Ledges. Lead single “Robin Williams,” with its fractious electric guitar chords, plays like a twin to Carry the Ghost’s first single and lead-off track “Slow Dancer.” “Out of Time” initiates flashbacks to the Radiohead influences that blossomed all over White Noise. The entire Noah Gundersen toolkit, it seems, is fair game on this album.
In 2014, Noah Gundersen released his first full-length album. The record in question, Ledges, was a masterclass in contemporary folk music, loaded with confessional lyrics, acoustic guitars, and fiddles. By all accounts, Gundersen seemed like a traditionalist.
In 2015, Gundersen quickly followed Ledges up with his sophomore LP, the spiritually fraught Carry the Ghost. It was still a folk album, but Noah was fleshing things out, adding fractious electric guitar and other elements of full band instrumentation into the mix. It was clearly the work of a young songwriter who was yearning to grow.
Between the fall of 2015 and the early winter of 2016, Gundersen did two tours in support of Carry the Ghost. The first was a full-band endeavor, presenting the songs on Ghost as they were meant to be heard. The second was a solo tour, where Gundersen played songs from both Ledges and Carry the Ghost on acoustic guitar, solo electric guitar, and piano. It was a stark, intimate presentation, and it showed off what made Gundersen so special: his vulnerable, fragile voice; his songs that could work well no matter how much he built them up or stripped them down; and his honest, forthright lyrics.
But something was wrong. Gundersen was having a crisis of faith—not the same crisis of religious faith he wrote about on Carry the Ghost, but a crisis of faith in his own art. When I saw Gundersen on the solo tour for Ghost, he was pointedly reserved. He bantered with the audience occasionally, but during the songs, his eyes were cast toward the floor or closed entirely. And at the end of the show, when a condescending moderator led a Q&A session and suggested that Gundersen was “so young” and “couldn’t have possibly experienced what he sang about in his songs,” Noah seemed at a loss for how to answer—at least politely. When the Q&A ended, Gundersen headed quickly for the stage door.