Noah Gundersen – ‘A Pillar of Salt’ album review

Noah Gundersen A Pillar of Salt album Cooking Vinyl Records review

Seattle-based singer-songwriter Noah Gundersen moved off the grid to a moss-covered cabin deep in the woods of Mt. Baker, Washington State, just as the pandemic took over all of our lives. The location had no WiFi, a water supply fed by a nearby creek and a wood-burning stove for heat. These surroundings inspired the songs that make up new album ‘A Pillar of Salt’ – a piece that finds him looking back on memories, lost loves, anxiety and ultimately moving on.

‘Laurel and Hardy’ is the first song on the album and it finds Noah emotionally looking back on time spent with a former lover – ‘I thought you were joking when you asked for that kiss, I’d have never expected it would end up like this’ – and talking about ‘stumbling in darkness’ over subtle swathes of electronica and glacial piano notes. ‘Body’ has a Bleachers feel, especially in the synth-laden pop-infused production, as Noah begins to look forward to a future with cautious optimism: ‘Here I am on a beautiful day’; ‘I guess I just get nervous when things are going OK’. He also celebrates the carefree nature of the song’s subject: ‘When the world was a bonfire, you wanted to dance around it’. ‘The Coast’ is subtler and slower with Noah trying to rekindle a relationship that he now realises he was at fault for ending: ‘Baby, come back, was it really that bad?’

Phoebe Bridgers makes a guest appearance on the deliciously dark ‘Atlantis’, a song that features lines about breaking knees, dying after inhaling paint fumes and playing a suicidal addict in a TV show: ‘After a season I’ll be replaced by some asshole with a better face’. This is reflected in examples of real-life scenarios being recalled against stirring string arrangements: ‘I saw a dragon and I gave chase, the perfect example of a hopeless case’. ‘Magic Trick’ brings back memories of the first lockdown with discussion about live streams and the observation that ‘You used to walk to the corner store, now it’s something you would die for’, while ‘Bright Lost Things’ offers a Springsteen-meets-Wild Pink-esque account of a journey through New York, taking in the colours of the trash cans, the brightness of the lights and sound of the sirens: ‘You try to keep it tight but the memories of a past life keep on pushing through’.

Recent single ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ is another nostalgic piece of sadpop with a killer opening line – ‘Sleepless in Seattle, I couldn’t fine a better name for this’ – that finds Noah explaining how every bar in his hometown brings back painful memories of the people he used to be close to and their life experiences, from happy marriages to bad acid trips: ‘I don’t want to go home’. With the strings bringing a heft of pure emotion, it reminded us of Tim Kasher’s brave and honest solo material: ‘Right now it feels like last call on New Year’s Eve and the bartender’s telling me to go’. The closing ‘Always There’ is full of atmospheric and glitchy twinkly piano sounds that back up an outpouring of admiration – albeit with more morbid undertones: ‘Love grows like a cancer’.

Once you get a taste of ‘A Pillar of Salt’ and its powerful memories and messages, you won’t be able to resist going back for more.

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