Elizabeth Gundersen “Elephant Heart” / January 2018
RIYL: Natalie Hemby, Joseph, Norah Jones
Spoiler alert: what follows is a glowing review of Elizabeth Gundersen’s debut EP, Elephant Heart – it basically wrote itself. But, in reality, that shouldn’t be a spoiler at all if you know anything about the Gundersen family. Elizabeth’s brother Noah is one of our generation’s most underrated songwriters, putting out three incredibly moving full-length records under his own name since 2014 (the first one prominently featured their sister Abby) as well as two equally stellar EP’s under a side project called Young in the City. But this review isn’t about either of them, despite them being featured, along with what appears to be the rest of their siblings, in some capacity on each of Elephant Heart’s six songs.
From the opening notes of track one, I knew I was in for a treat. “Falling For You” is a gorgeous, wintry Americana number that builds perfectly and serves as a worthy introduction to Elizabeth’s incredible voice and songwriting. It’s followed by album highlight “Walls”, which is a song meant for summertime country radio, if country radio had any clue what the hell it was doing. (I don’t know much on the subject, but I know enough to assure you it doesn’t…)
That’s not to say this is a country record – far from it. But “Walls” just so happens to have that vibe while also being the first great song of 2018. “I can’t stare out at the ocean as long as most romantics can/’Cus I get all my salty tears from a beautiful cold-hearted man” Gundersen sings in the second verse, followed shortly by a chorus of “I’m sorry that I’m broken but these days, most girls are/And you should know that you won’t hurt me/I’ve got walls around this heart”. It’s, quite simply, stunning, while simultaneously being pretty damn fun to listen and tap your feet to.
The title track showcases Elizabeth’s gorgeous voice over a simple piano track provided, along with vocal harmonies, by brother Noah. It’s no surprise this is a recipe for a massively successful ballad. If you make it out of this one without chills, you’re either 100% in control of your bodily reactions or you’re simply not human at all. Following this is penultimate track “Precious Wine”, which sits at a perfect spot in the track listing given its darker melodic tones. Gundersen’s voice is as powerful and commanding as ever here, a perfect contrast to closer “My Side” which strips things back to a lone acoustic guitar and vocal arrangement. And when she sings “Pour me out of your troubled head / You’ll fight your demons once you are dead / Blame me for your broken heart / I’ll blame you for tearing me apart,” you feel as if you’re sitting in her bedroom, watching her empty her heart from behind her guitar. Then, the door closes (literally) and you’re left alone in awe of what you’ve just witnessed.
I began this review by saying Noah Gundersen is one of our generation’s most underrated songwriters, and I will stand by that. But, if there’s one Gundersen destined for mainstream success, it’s Elizabeth. If these six songs don’t garner major label attention this year, there is something criminally wrong with the music industry. Elephant Heart is a flawless listen; do yourself a favor and check it out on Bandcamp immediately.