Album Review: Steve Gunn - The Unseen In Between
There’s a danger with Steve Gunn that he might slip straight into the “great American songwriters” category, beloved by record-buying retirees, without ever having his day in the sun with the younger generation. The artist’s signing to Matador for previous album Eyes On The Lines certainly helped, but he hasn’t garnered the same audience as the majority of their other recent acquisitions. Instead he’s gone on to produce for Michael Chapman and put out another beautiful but underheard Gunn-Truscinski duo album, and has brought those experiences into his new album The Unseen In Between, in which he’s managed to further finesse his already finely manicured sound. This will probably again all go unheralded – but judging from the laid back personality he puts into his songs, he probably isn’t that bothered.
The Unseen In Between begins with ‘New Moon’, a track that welcomes you to the album with the smoothness of a state-of-the-art sea liner taking to the ocean. Immediately the listener is graciously welcomed by Gunn’s acoustic guitar, supplemented by upright bass, shakers and reverberating electric guitar. The sound is so finely produced that it feels like a warm embrace, and Gunn’s voice drifts in with unspectacular comfort, guiding us amidst skyward harmonicas and strings. His lyrics in ‘New Moon’ involve incongruous images from “off-key dreams,” including “grinning skulls” and a world where “love, just like thunder, splits the ground.” Ostensibly he’s singing a song of frustration, but ‘New Moon’ is just so gorgeous in its flow that those frustrations fall away and his words are just another sound in the beautiful vessel.
This is pretty much the case throughout The Unseen In Between, which is consistently pristine, and asks you to just meld your mind with the acquiescent beauty of its sound. The record often reflects the black-and-white photography that has accompanied the press campaign and adorns the front cover; the images are fairly standard, but the way they’re composed and produced allows each element to stand out while also being an integral part of the whole. In this way, you can enjoy The Unseen In Between enormously without ever really having to engage or think about it – it’s just that natural.
That’s not to say that Gunn’s lyricism is unworthy of engaging, as he has actually taken a step forward in that department. While he might still touch on the quotidian joys, and his affinity for cats still pops up, there are characters and honesty here. ‘Vagabond’ is a snaking downhill rocker, with Gunn busily describing street-side images of Mona who “camped out in a graveyard,” and Jean-Pierre whose “artwork remains unsold.” ‘Stonehurst Cowboy’ is an ode to his recently-passed father, discussing the effect that growing up in a war-gripped America had, and, ever-attuned to the tone, Gunn has created a slow and stark modern country ballad to relay his tale.
Nonetheless, many of the highlights of The Unseen In Between are the moments where the instrumentation is left to take hold of the listener and sweep them to whatever their imagination might conjure. ‘Luciano’ and ‘New Familiar’ might involve Gunn singing specific images about loving relationships, but it’s truly through his guitar and production that he does his real talking, with these tracks both spiralling off into modern-rock reveries replete with strings and other atmospherics. Songs like ‘Lightning Field’ and ‘Morning Is Mended’, which revolve around their titular imagery, are perfect for Gunn’s style, presenting a simplistic idea that has captivated the musician and just expanding impressionistically from that centre.
The Unseen In Between has the potential to be a victim of its own naturalness; it’s such a finely-hewed record that people will step into its sound and enjoy it with such ease that they might take it for granted, believe it’s something classic they already know, or not bother to investigate because it’s the kind of record that doesn’t necessarily grab you. Steve Gunn’s music is not showy and it doesn’t attempt to attract attention, despite the expansive and expert playing involved throughout. Like Gunn himself, The Unseen In Between is happy to wait for you to come to it, and if you happen to pass on by, then that’s your loss.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 22nd January 2019.