A new side of Steve Gunn turns up on his latest, Other You. There’s a surprising dichotomy that emerges early on and grows throughout this timeless record. Simultaneously, Gunn is more reserved – his guitar playing is more technically reserved and straightforward, while his voice is more present and out front. Awash with a psychedelic sheen, these songs are dialed in and smeared with a level of refinement not felt in his music before. Other You is heavy in its weightlessness, determined to find catharsis while standing on solid ground.
So many moments across Other You would fit into previous eras, but combined into a singular album, it’s distinct and affecting. “Protection” stars with an intro straight from the early ‘60s, thrown off kilter almost immediately by synths and more modern, propulsive rhythm. The sea breeze blows through, Gunn calling out for “a good clear direction” and finding solace in the turquoise water and sunkissed beaches. “It’s a sound you won’t hear again,” he sings as leads swell and blur into midnight ghosts following each successive step within this sweet, laid-back groove.
Ethereal landscapes sweep “Good Wind” into view, Gunn’s words searching for a path into the skyward folds, away from terrestrial scars. Julianna Barwick takes the song into golden fields with celestial vocal layers, her inimitable sound and style weaved perfectly into the thread of Jeff Parker’s searching guitar passages. Parker is among my favorite guitarists in the world and his evocative and searching mini solos throughout “Good Wind” imbue the song with lamentable strength. It’s not a place any of us expected to be, but now that we’re here, we might as well put in a shift and do what we can for everyone.
Throughout Other You, guest spots become part of the sonic scenery, emerging to start a fire or douse the flames as needed. Harp waterfalls from Mary Lattimore cover everything in shimmering dust on “Sugar Kiss,” the only instrumental track on Other You. Spiritual floes from Gunn’s 12-string add to the shine, steep vistas appearing in the distance like a hopeful horizon to aim for. Guitar drones howl against the firmament, a speculative arrow singing like tomorrow is just around the bend. “Sugar Kiss” sounds like tears of joy; the great relief that blossoms at the end of a tragedy when the only direction left is up.
Steve Gunn shows that there’s always room to keep growing and find new spaces to explore on Other You. He pushes himself outside his comfort zone, even while longing for the familiar reaches of home. In the closing moments of “Ever Feel That Way,” he sings about finding a way through, even in the darkness, and landing in places unexpected yet reassuring. Gunn treads new ground all throughout Other You but still hangs on to the soul of what has always made his music great. Familiarity isn’t a barrier, it’s just another tool. “What gives you the right,” he asks “to shut it down again?” Other You thrives pushing back against expectation and urges us to remember our shared connections can outlast the glass-eyed fatalists. There’s a place for all of us along the way, it’s past time we held out our hands.
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