Classic But Unfortunately Banal Folk
Noah Gundersen, folk singer-songwriter of the band Beneath Oceans and more recently The Courage, released his first solo album, Ledges, earlier this week. His fourth release as a solo act, the album follows in the wake of three EPs, the most recent of which (2011’s Family) seemed to weave in and out of genre lines, ambitious even for someone who’s been active since 2005. So does the artist’s most recent work “defy genre” in a similar way and deserve similar acclaim?
Well, no to both questions. Ledges as a collective work seems to be more reminiscent of classic bluegrass and folk than Family, and certain tracks are extremely well done. The album’s opener, “Poor Man’s Son,” begins with an a cappella section from Gundersen and some gorgeous harmonies, promising more than a standard folk effort in the vein of contemporary groups like The Head and the Heart or The Decemberists. Additionally, the track “Liberator” builds on itself to a truly powerful climax, and piano closer “Time Moves Quickly” provides an emotive and different sound to set Gundersen aside from many contemporary artists within his category, while at the same time retaining a more classic sound.
However, most of Gundersen’s acoustic songs, and even the more upbeat, well-orchestrated ones, fall flat of achieving anything remarkably different or interesting. Lyrically, the singer-songwriter seems to work in generalities, while at the same time relying on repeated instrumentations of Americana (fiddle, basic harmony, and acoustic guitar). In this regard, the album embodies folk, but it’s executed in a really boring and vanilla way. His acoustic tracks especially seem to lack sincerity, as well as anything musically interesting, save for the three tracks mentioned earlier. And as much of the album relies on these acoustic-centric tunes, much of Ledges is unfortunately bland.
Perhaps on his next album or EP, Noah Gundersen will return to his more experimental, indie ways rather than try to create a genre staple. Until then, Ledges warrants solely a few listens, if that, and will likely fail to leave a unique imprint on the ears of most listeners.