Exhibiting modestly more complex textures and less twang than his 2014 debut, Ledges, Noah Gundersen's second full-length album, Carry the Ghost, offers an increase in personnel and mixing by Phil Ek (Father John Misty, Guster), resulting in a slightly edgier, more indie folk-sounding landscape. Still profoundly intimate but less whispery overall than Ledges, the solemn-voiced singer/songwriter still takes it down to a regretful murmur on "Silver Bracelet" ("Kissing my mouth like you wanted to/Back before the money took its toll") and for much of the critically self-examining "Selfish Art" ("Most of my songs are true/Most of my songs are due to some broken people/So I could write a single"), a rangy acoustic-guitar ballad with the potential to be a show-stopping encore on the road. "Empty from the Start" isn't as quiet but rather elegant, with female harmony, simple arpeggiated acoustic guitar, and eventually piano ("This is all we have/This is all we are/Blood and bones no Holy Ghost/Empty from the start"). Alternately, songs like "Jealous Love" and "Slow Dancer" feature a full band with electric guitars and keys, and projected vocals. "Halo (Disappear/Reappear)," also with full band, sounds like it was captured live, with feedback, an immediate-sounding rhythm section, haunting harmonies, and a booming electric guitar solo that eventually drowns out Gundersen's own wail. "Heartbreaker," too, builds slowly and ends in vocal and instrumental anguish. To say the album is introspective and melancholic may be an understatement; it's an intense listen that requires one to be in a particular head space and would not function well as background music. However, while Carry the Ghost is a sullen work, with lyrics that deal head-on with reality, and processing rather than wallowing, Gundersen hits a beautifully wistful sweet spot in tone both lyrically and musically.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson