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Monday, 24 March 2014 08:00

Album review: On 'Ledges' Noah Gundersen crafts a heartfelt album of heartbreak

Album review: On 'Ledges' Noah Gundersen crafts a heartfelt album of heartbreak
Written by Liz Schranck

Noah Gundersen

"Stone-cold broke in the middle of the winter, oh like a poor man's son" -- these are the raspy, passionate words that mark the beginning of Noah Gundersen's first full-length album, released February 11, 2014.

Gundersen is no stranger to recording, however. Along with his work with the bands Beneath Oceans and the Courage, the Seattle native has released three EPs -- "Brand New World," "Saints and Liars" and "Family" -- between 2008 and 2011.

Even in those first few seconds of "Poor Man's Son," the first track on "Ledges," one is left feeling empty and full at the same time, hanging on every word as the four part-harmony falls in and out of the tune, no matter if an instrument enters the picture eventually or not.

Eventually, it does: Noah's soft guitar-strumming adds a perfect touch to the a capella harmonies. The best part? It was cut live, and you know it. It's raw, unedited and climactic. At the end of the track Gundersen's nearly shouted lyrics remind you that the young man is a powerhouse, not unlike Glen Hansard as a singer and songwriter.

The album continues with "Boathouse," during which Noah's sister Abby -- who contributes violin, piano and soprano harmony on nearly all of the tracks -- shines. The violin adds that folk dynamic that comes across so strongly on the tracks. And of course, the brother-sister dynamic of their voices makes the song that much more powerful.

That's not all: quite literally a family band makes the magic happen. Jordan Gundersen provides the beat on the drums and makes vocal appearances here and there. Elizabeth Gundersen is also a vocalist on the album. That leaves Noah, who is responsible for guitar, piano, harmonica and bass.

The album's clearest folk-pop tune is "Ledges," which features the lines "Here I stand on the edge of the ledges I've made"; the hook is stick-in-your-head good. It's a strong break from the heavier mood of the rest of the album. "Poison Vine" follows with a slowly strummed guitar and Noah's bare vocals to draw you back in.

But "Cigarettes" is where Noah's songwriting really shines. Again, it begins with that slowly strummed guitar, but this time with a crying harmonica. "You remind me of cigarettes, the way I hold you in my chest," Gundersen begins. "The way you kiss me with filtered breath, I keep thinking I'm gettin' over this." When a songwriter has the ability to plant an image in your mind the way he does in this song, you know he has the power to move the masses. It's palpable, to say the least.

While songwriting seems to come naturally for Noah, the one area that the listener may feel needs expansion is lyrical content. Of course, nearly all of us have experienced romantic heartbreak in our lives, but with Noah that experience dominates "Ledges." "Liberator" follows in romantic suit, but has an easy listening feel to it. "Dying Now," feels heavy and heart wrenching; Abby's violin laments and her impassioned vocals match her brother's.

The final track, "Time Moves Quickly," feels different than the rest. Passively played piano from Noah and Abby's soft violin make for a dark outro. The line "Time moves quickly, with or without me," rings out, leaving the listener feeling slightly less optimistic than after the first track. But Gundersen is nothing if not honest, and that's ultimately why he's worth listening to now -- and surely will be in the future.

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