In the past, one wouldn’t have been remiss to label Noah Gundersen as indie folk and press the Seattle singer-songwriter comfortably into a corner with many of his similarly talented contemporaries. His warm, silk-and-grit vocals aside, he offered his heart on a string without many frills in his previous albums, with tracks often only instrumentally adorned with strummy guitar and introspective fiddling.
Fans of Gundersen may be in for a surprise with White Noise. While he most certainly isn’t the first folk singer to go electric, as the popular term goes, he is among the first to come out swinging with a record as layered undeniably different as this. While such a sudden change may be received to varying degrees depending on who you ask, there’s also no denying the music on the LP is among his best work.
Ultimately, Noah Gundersen isn’t the same person that he was at the start of his career over half a decade ago, and we can’t expect his sound to remain the same while the person progresses ever forward. The greatest change will find here is from a sonic position, and that change comes fast, yet broodingly so, on album opener “After All (Everything All the Time)”. It’s a soaring, electric guitar-driven rock ensemble featuring reverb and vocal effects that paint a bright, vivid picture of Gundersen’s instrumental shift straight out of the gate. Some work on violin is still present here, but it’s married to rambunctious drums alongside progressive synth and that driving electric lead guitar and bass.
All in all, where he might have let his heart out for the world to see on previous records, he’s never done it so simultaneously smartly and recklessly as he does on White Noise. Previous albums felt more intent on laying things out in simple patterns and guiding the audience on a journey without many surprises, and while that formula has its pluses, White Noise sees Gundersen in an exciting new place where he feels uninhibited as a performer. Again, the mileage may vary, but for those fans willing to try something new with their main guy, they’ll probably find an anthemic, even cerebral rock-out experience that they will feel all the more refreshing.
Gundersen himself has gone on the record to call his latest effort “a sensory overload”. Once things get going, though, and you let yourself sink into his new work, you will likely find a brilliant spark to latch onto. Like Bon Iver before him, Gundersen is very consciously making an effort to distance himself from being called just another emotive folk artist. On White Noise, he expands his sound much further than any artist comfortably should all in one go. Yet, it works. From the weird and wonderful synth of “Heavy Metals” to the explosive anthem that is “The Sound”, and to the sweet, piano-centric balladry of “Bad Desire”, it all just works.