CD review: Noah Gundersen's Saints & Liars"/>
Noah Gundersen plays his CD release show tonight at 8 p.m. at the Q Cafe .
Saints & Liars
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Noah Gundersen plays his CD release show tonight at 8 p.m. at the Q Cafe.
Saints & Liars
It's tempting to focus on Noah Gundersen's age when listening to the songs on his new EP, Saints & Liars. On the one hand, it's startling to realize that a 20-year-old is responsible for the haunting, Tom Waits-styled guitar and lyrics on the opening track, "Ring a Bell": "I swallowed an ocean/ an ocean of wine/ and the fruit-picker's daughters/ are just grapes on the vine." Gundersen, a Centralia native, demonstrates the sort of songwriting skill and lyrical self-awareness you'd expect from someone who had been playing and listening to music for a decade. Later on "Ring a Bell," a dark track about self destruction, he reveals his precocious musicianship, wisely changing the song's sound when the theme turns. When he sings "I will try my best," he lets his low guitar line fall away and welcomes the harmonic voice of his sister, Abby Gundersen. It's a moment of rare optimism on Saints & Liars, which deals with disappointment, death, and disillusionment with God. Even on "Caroline"--the best song on the six-song EP--Gundersen's rollicking guitar and occasional falsetto sound hopeful, while his lyrics tell the sad story of a man who can't marry the woman he loves.
In the same way, it's easy to blame the album's weaknesses on Gundersen's age. His lyrics tend toward exposition, like a young man awkwardly airing his confusing feelings. The best example is "Jesus, Jesus," a song addressed directly to the proverbial man upstairs. Gundersen's a true confessional singer-songwriter--he boldly asks Jesus if there will be a third World War--but there's not enough metaphor or nuance on such a deep song. "Oh Death" is just as overwrought, and is the EP's weakest point; deep violins and slow tempo weight down lyrics that are already thematically heavy. Even a uniquely strong and beautiful track like "Ring A Bell," has its flaw: Gundersen sings one verse too many, and the song loses impact the longer it gets. To some extent, the real demon Gundersen wrestles on Saints & Liars is handling the expectation he cannot live up to: namely, that every song will showcase his rare talent and maturity. Luckily, he's got plenty of time to figure it out.