Steve Gunn: The Unseen In Between

A swirling, effortlessly artsy album with an almost surreal atmosphere you won’t soon forget.

Steve Gunn
The Unseen In Between
(Matador)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

You don’t just listen to music from guitarist/singer-songwriter Steve Gunn, you let it envelop you. The Brooklyn by way of Philadelphia artist incorporates the ethereal psychedelia of The Church and the haunting pop strains of the Go-Betweens for a low-key but never snoozy sound based on acoustic strumming yet enhanced with tensile, hovering electric guitar flourishes.

The Church comparison is particularly apt since Gunn’s gauzy voice is similar to that of Church frontman and co-founder Steve Kilby. Opener “New Moon” is driven by Gunn’s folksy strum and pushed by Tony Garnier’s (Bob Dylan) fat, jazzy, standup bass lines as words like “Off key dreams that you’re living in/ smiling skulls, ghosts are grinning” float by like ominous clouds on a breezy summer day. Meg Baird adds lovely female vocal counterpoint on “Vagabond” where the lyrics of “Vacancy in a burned out flat, you’re an empty stare from a vagrant cat” present another unsettling scenario. Even when Gunn provides notes explaining a few selections such as “Stonehurst Cowboy,” which we’re told is a tribute to his late father although that would be near impossible to gather from the impressionistic words alone, the songs are vague at best.

But the combination of oblique concepts with Gunn’s similarly floating music creates a softly disconcerting air that gradually wraps around the listener, enclosing them with a sometimes troubling vibe. Dark strings enhance the moody music that shifts from the finger-picked, early Pink Floyd-influenced reflection of “Morning Is Mended” and the closing space-folk of “Paranoid” to the Mark Knopfler-styled strum of “Lightning Field.”

Gunn only occasionally lets fly and displays his remarkable soloing talents, particularly on the soaring “New Familiar.” More often his impressive work is used to support the tunes. Even if each track has a distinct sound, the overall effect is of the whole of the appropriately mysteriously titled The Unseen In Between being more than the sum of its warm, lustrous parts.

Credit goes to multi-instrumentalist/producer James Elkington who balances a near perfect blend of acoustic and subtle electric instrumentation, ghostly supporting vocals and strings along with Gunn’s own singing and exquisite guitar. He molds this hypnotic mélange that finds its footing early and tugs you deeper into the vortex of sound through the next 45 minutes, crafting a swirling, effortlessly artsy album with an almost surreal atmosphere you won’t soon forget.