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Kind of like with the R&B/Pop/Soul of Solomon Witherspoon, Preston Gunderson has picked a genre that isn’t very common in the area. I don’t really like to label a musical artist, but when it comes to describing music in writing, it is something that must be discussed. Gunderson clearly takes on pop music with the full length album “While I Was Gone.”
Much like the way a judge at a dog show takes on a Great Dane compared to a Jack Russell Terrier, it’s not my place to say what kind of music is better than another genre, it’s about finding what stands out for the breed. I try to take on an album as it’s own experience and look for things that make the album exceptional and things that set itself apart as an original work. As far as pop music is concerned, Gunderson achieves an album that rivals any artist like Jason Mraz or Mason Jennings, I also take no joy in comparing an up and coming artist to well known ones. When asked about his choice of playing pop music, Gunderson replied, “I guess I’ve always just enjoyed something that I couldn’t get out of my head. Pop choruses, and catchy lines, but at the same time I wanted my music to be real to my life. A way for me to express what I couldn’t in everyday life.”
Gunderson shows a great deal of talent that has been fostered by various influences, including his mother who toured at USO shows and had Gunderson playing the piano at the age of three years old. Gunderson has been playing music around the Twin Ports since his freshman year of college. He is a self taught guitar and bass player who largely plays by ear.
Many of the songs detail relationships and what can be assumed as Gunderson’s personal life. There is a certain vagueness to a lot of the lyrics and it seems like a two edged sword. Gunderson seeks to make playing music his life, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with writing songs that many can relate to rather than making something too specific, but storytelling in a song or pulling out what feels like genuine emotion can often captivate a listener more than a clean cut track that sounds like what people want to hear.
Gunderson gets close to telling stories with “Aussie Girl,” although it’s the most laid back song that I’ve ever heard that uses the chant “oi, oi ,oi.” Likewise, the songs “Sara Rae” and “Lost in London” want to tell a story but they don’t quite make it there, but these songs stand out on the album. Gunderson has spent some time studying abroad and some of his songs carry the experiences he’s had on his journeys. “Traveling has been an incredible experience for me. I learned a lot from playing in different areas in our state and country, but even more so from playing overseas in London and Ireland. It was great to learn about their culture of music, and how they viewed an artist. I wrote most of the album while I was over there. It gave me a lot of inspiration, and really helped develop me as an artist,” said Gunderson.
It should be said that with the kind of vague lyrics, the recording of instruments and vocals are more or less perfect. There is a decent amount of instruments going on in the album which include on top of the usual guitar, bass, and vocal set up, there’s keys, horns like the sax played by Gunderson and trombone played by Connor Drummond and Tony Beaderstadt as well as trumpet played by Adam Zarth. There is plenty happening in the recording, but it just sits tight and snug where it should be. To contrast, the song “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd sits together perfectly like the way a country/pop number should, but then it gradually releases itself into true rocking. There is no release in these songs, they just sit together for what they are. A good example of this is the lead guitar in “Secret Place,” it holds down the song, but never really shines. It just adds exactly what it should, and it’s hard to fully describe what a lead guitar should do, but it could have easily gone more out of the box than it did in “Secret Place.”
Something that is somewhat amusing about the album is the song “To The Moon,” which has the exact same chord progression as the short song “Together on the Sand” by the punk group, NOFX. Gunderson’s drummer pointed this out to him and Gunderson admitted that he has never listened to NOFX, so it’s pure coincidence that the songs are so similar. The NOFX song is far more immature and it wasn’t really meant to be a serious song. Youtube it if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
For some reason I had a feeling that there would be a guest rap artist on this album and indeed there are two. The track “Voice of the Voiceless” is perhaps the most meaningful track on the album. Rather than vague songs about relationships, this song switches it up with a political and social message. But in the song, it’s not really Gunderson’s parts that stand out, it’s the rappers Gibby and Mac Lethal who pull the song together.
This album is tied together by the last track, “My Life,” this song captures the general feel of this album. It’s simple and features a variety of things going on and everything lies where it should. There are backup vocal harmonies, keys and a number of other things that line up nicely, but it doesn’t take off, it just creates the song that was intended and stays there.
The album is smooth, groovy and yes, it’s undeniably poppy. Throughout the album, there is a certain amount of perfectionism and consistency, to the point where it’s one of the most noteworthy things about it. From the perfect snap of the snare that has been honed with effects and filters to the lead instruments that follow the music very well, but don’t exactly go anywhere; this album is sterile, solid and clean and lacks a sense of bravery or original exploration of personal expression. When I listen to music, I seek an emotion. Whether it’s sadness, anger, rocking out, laughing or whatever. This is indeed good music for what it is but didn’t deliver the impact I was hoping for overall. At no moment does this album challenge the listener, it remains in a perfect stasis of pop music.
“While I Was Gone” is a great demonstration of song writing and recording. Gunderson is well on his way to pulling off something that is accessible and perhaps marketable, but is that all what an album should be? Look at the lyrics of Bob Dylan or Tom Waits or the sometimes sloppy ferocity of the guitar leads of Jimi Hendrix. No, a good album doesn’t need to have these things, and this album is good, but a great album will test the waters. Music has been happening for a long long time and when looking at albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles and Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, I know it’s possible to create something catchy and cutting edge at the same time. Gunderson has down the catchy part, but hopefully will search for something to truly set his sound apart from traditional pop artists who have made it big.
I really enjoyed the packaging on this CD and find it fitting for an official first album. The lyrics are laid out in a cool way and the photos of Gunderson are great and fit with what he’s going for in the album. My favorite thing about the liner notes is the illustration in the middle. “The Illustration is basically a picture depicting each song. As you look through you can see each track title in a creative, artistic way. It was made up by my friend Adam Giorgi,” said Gunderson.