Noah Gundersen’s second full-length album, Carry the Ghost, does exactly what it says it will do. It carries—with blunder and doubt and some nerve—those phantoms that haunt us all. Compared to last year’s Ledges it feels raw and uncut, like listening to something as unrehearsed as nightmares. I’ll admit that it took a few listens for this record to take hold, but when it stuck it stayed with me. I thought Ledges was one of the better albums of 2014, but the folky fiddle and layered sounds on songs like Ledges and Boathouse made that album easy to spin with a group of nonbelievers. Whether it was his intention or not, Carry the Ghost is an album that makes you feel like it wasn’t written for any purpose other than the undertaking of ghosts themselves—carrying the messages of those things that we haven’t yet learned to rest with.
Gundersen has always showcased himself as a confessional songwriter, but this album features a kind of introspection that reaches out willingly for those dark mysteries and wants to know them. He tackles his own artistic methods in Selfish Art, is haunted by a love lost in songs like Show Me the Light and Planted Seeds, and releases the idea of a God he grew up with in Empty from the Start: “I think I heard good man say, ‘God is love and love has made us.’ But have you seen the news today? I have, and I think God has gone away if he was ever there anyway. 'Cause anyone that tells you they were born good is lying. We’re just born and we are dying.” As if in defiance to pop music itself, the language of this record promotes nothing more than a slow sloughing of unseasoned skin—a letting of belief, god and love.
I was not surprised to read that Gundersen wrote these songs while on tour for Ledges. There’s a solitude that’s often required for this kind of writing, and there was something in these songs that prompted me to recall that "life of a ghost" in Kerouac’s On The Road. If the literature of the beat generation, or the albums that follow long tours are any indication, the apparitions will find us when we are least ourselves and away from home. The ghosts that we encounter in postmodern music and text are built around a psychological haunting; they reveal an unexpected presence—a dissonance between space and time, a memory untethered, a visitation from the past, and a longing for something that we can't ever touch. Ghosts are real, so long as we let them live and slog them around with our faulty and sentimental memory. But the good news for Gundersen is that even though we are just “blood and bones”, the ghosts will outlast us and so will this revelatory album. In the spirit of the great troubadours that precede him, this is his best work yet.
Feeling haunted? Me too. I’m a bit consumed with the presence of ghosts in music, literature and postmodern storytelling. I’ve had a running playlist for some time that I always add to. Give into the ghost.