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With Other You, Steve Gunn Achieves His Most Complete Vision

Steve Gunn Other You album review

The cult artist’s new album on Matador Records elevates his excellent guitar playing into a quiet and sophisticated vision of reflection on what it means to be alive.

Steve Gunn is quietly one of the hardest working musicians in modern indie rock. The guitar virtuoso’s near two-decade career got kicked off by playing in Kurt Vile’s band before he took things in a solo direction in the mid-aughts. Since, he has produced a body of work under his name and with recording partners that includes nearly 20 LPs, EPs, and live records. Other You, his sixth solo album which is out now on Matador Records, is his first project recorded outside of Philadelphia and New York City. Although written in Brooklyn, he put the album to tape in Los Angeles. (Hence, I think, the whole “other you,” thing…) And strangely, you can feel it while you listen — a sweet and elegant blend of northeast toughness and Pacific coast dreaming. It’s kind of amazing he hasn’t thought to do this yet.

The namesake for Other You is a funny little story. Apparently, while putting the album to tape, Gunn couldn’t hit a specific note in a harmony, so producer Rob Schnapf recorded Gunn’s voice and digitally shifted the pitch to match the intended note. Gunn sang along until he got it. Quite literally, he was singing with another version of himself. Kind of a trippy thought, I suppose — and as all trippy thoughts, it’s the perfect metaphor for what Gunn’s music represents: Chasing yourself through the haze of existence.

Other You is the newest record in Gunn’s catalog, and it also might be one of the best records in Gunn’s catalog. As a whole, his music is introspective and soul-searching, each a fluttering attempt to make sense of what it means to be alive, and doing so without being too obtuse or loud in the quest for that understanding. The density of what he creates often isn’t evident upon first listen, but rather it sticks around, mellowing out and challenging itself and the listener to understand what it’s trying to do as the time floats by. It’s not flowery, but it gives itself space — something that many artists are afraid to do. But Gunn’s quiet confidence is assuring, creating a trust with the listener that’s warm and inviting. Come on in, stay awhile, hang out. Maybe we’ll sit outside on the deck. Other You finds this vibe perfectly. Everything is comfortable and broken in, like a damn good jacket.

Ah, the jacket. You couldn’t ask for better album art than what Gunn’s chosen for Other You. A quiet, psychedelic overlay on a picture of a guy. Yes, that guy is Gunn himself, but his casual nature, sitting with his guitar on his knee, looking off into the distance — there’s not an ounce of pretension. He’s just a guy. A guy who is just working to live, and living to work. There is a palpable lack of desire for glory that is so uncommon these days and because of that, so appealing. He looks like the kind of artist who doesn’t understand why his publicist might ask him to post something to social media. Not because he doesn’t want to, but because, maybe, he doesn’t know how?

Known as a bit press shy and for his quiet on-stage presence, Gunn’s the definition of a blue collar musician. Punching into the time clock at the studio; creating in the name of creating. An example: With “For Eddie Hazel,” a hazy, gritty track he recorded with John Truscinski in 2020 for their joint record Soundkeeper, his justification for the kaleidoscope song’s namesake was pretty simple: “Because we’ve listened and talked about him so much, we figured it was time to dedicate something in his honor.” Sick.

That ethos exists all across Other You. These 11 tracks — which include guest spots from other great artists in the folk world like Julianna Barwick, Bridget St. John, and many more — aren’t as guitar-focused as his previous work. Instead, this feels like the most holistic approach to recording music of his career. The laser precise approach to his guitar work is stretched out. It doesn’t sound like someone demonstrating their extreme skills at a craft. Instead, it’s a complete vision, demonstrating the basic notion that, well, it is what it is, and there’s not much more to it. Songs are named things like “Good Wind,” “Protection,” or “Ever Feel That Way.” They take their time both sonically and lyrically to reflect the moments between the moments, the days between the days. Bouncing along the pulse of life. Pausing for a second as you look around and find yourself staring for a bit too long at that tangled branch in that strange tree.

And yet, do not mistake the elegance of his approach for simplicity. Underneath the floating tracks is a fidgety feeling that’s always existed with Gunn’s music. In the same way that he embraces the beauty of the spaces between, he also recognizes the existential terror that might drive someone to bite their fingernails rather than pay their bills. He’s not covering up reality with these beautiful songs. Instead he’s, once again, simply providing space. The prime example is on “Reflection” when he channels this idea with very plain lyrics:

Walk the hills behind your home
Catch the way it sounded
Your voice inside the day
The light comes shares the same.

Life is created in the space around us. If we don’t take a pause, it will just float on by. Gunn encourages us to grab the good and the bad, our fears and our joys. Take a leap, because magic is real if you believe in it. The extremes of being alive feel intense when they flare up, but in order to understand them we must figure out what got us there in the first place. The approach is sophisticated and intricate, without saying too much. The “other you” couldn’t be more Gunn himself.

Steve Gunn – Other You Track By Track Review

1. Other You

Length: 5:44

The fluttering opening track is a lovely meditation that breathes in the way that’s Gunn’s trademark. Appropriately, this song is also the album’s namesake. “You save yourself from yourself,” he sings, almost exhausted. “Some words she softly sighed.”

2. Fulton

Length: 3:07

You wonder about what a guy like Gunn thinks about on those long walks at night, footsteps falling in front of the next. “Felt like the city had stopped,” he bellows. It’s those in between moments, ain’t it?

3. Morning River

Length: 3:08

“Morning River” sounds like Los Angeles sunshine. There’s not really much else that can be said. Celebrate the magic, indeed.

4. Good Wind

Length: 4:40

Gunn is one of those guys that might be thrown into a stereotypical corner — “Oh, just another dude with a guitar.” But “Good Wind” is a great illustration of his musicianship. He creates space here, a rolling, echoing dreamscape that feels like those mornings you don’t want to get out of bed, because you’ve melted into the sheets.

5. Circuit Rider

Length: 3:45

The way Gunn breathes the words “gentle you” could be a thesis statement for his entire discography.

6. On the Way

Length: 4:53

Gunn has been dubbed a “guitar virtuoso” throughout his career, and this is one of those songs of his that displays his deep understanding of the instrument. It’s a kaleidoscope of playing, with breakdowns between verses sounding like he’s got about 40 fingers.

7. Protection

Length: 6:11

Gunn isn’t soft, though. His introspection should not be mistaken for a lack of swagger. “Protection” is a song with a beating heart, softly chugging along.

8. The Painter

Length: 3:45

Another display of Gunn’s musicianship. Makes you wonder, *hits blunt* is he the painter?

9. Reflection

Length: 3:26

From the review: “And yet, do not mistake the elegance of his approach for simplicity. Underneath the floating tracks is a fidgety feeling that’s always existed with Gunn’s music. In the same way that he embraces the beauty of the spaces between, he also recognizes the existential terror that might drive someone to bite their fingernails rather than pay their bills. He’s not covering up reality with these beautiful songs. Instead he’s, once again, simply providing space. The prime example is on ‘Reflection’ when he channels this idea with very plain lyrics:

Walk the hills behind your home
Catch the way it sounded
Your voice inside the day
The light comes shares the same.

10. Sugar Kiss

Length: 5:59

Good one for getting stoned and staring at the wall.

11. Ever Feel That Way

Length: 5:32

Well, do you?

Rick Sunday

Rick Sunday is a freelance writer based in New York City who’s been writing professionally about music for over a decade. As dedicated and hardworking journalist, his work has appeared in a variety of publications throughout his career. In his writing, he embraces the absurdity of the modern era and strives to not take life too seriously, because what makes sense these days anyway? He is frequently found talking too much about the influence of the Grateful Dead.

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