Published Sep 30, 2020If one had to describe the voice of Toronto-based singer-songwriter Ben Kunder, words like "pleasant" and "friendly" would undoubtedly come to mind. Everything about his vocal delivery, from the softness of his entrances to the steady power of his enunciation, makes for an accessible and inoffensive listening experience. This vocal charm, among other things, is on full display on his newest record, Searching for the Stranger.
Though decidedly more instrumentally expansive than his previous release, 2018's shimmering Better Human, his third effort maintains the intimacy while strengthening his musical and atmospheric reach. The record's flow wholeheartedly supports this, with each successive track becoming more welcoming than its predecessor.
Composed exclusively of tracks with one-word titles, Kunder's songwriting is brimming with colour, with the warm, polished-turned-triumphant backbeat to "Berlin" and the snappy chorus of "Year" serving as brilliantly accessible chapters in his musical story. Elsewhere, the straightforward "Breakers" and Bruce Cockburn-esque title track illuminate the more obscure passages.
Lyrically, Kunder's tranquility shines through on nearly every track, with raw narratives accompanying every stanza. On "Lunenberg," he and guest vocalist Carleigh Aikins gracefully tell us to "breathe in, breathe out," reassuring listeners that "it'll all work out." Though a slightly overused sentiment, it's enlightening and relaxing coming with his tone. The same goes for the rest of the record; otherwise ordinary phrases are made incredibly personal and touching by Kunder's mature yet natural vocals.
While there are some more predictable musical moments scattered throughout the album's 40-minute runtime, the record is an honest, neatly packaged collection of stories with solid sonic flow.
Though not groundbreaking and sometimes predictable, Searching for the Stranger is a satisfying and seamless listen. A melodically holistic effort, Kunder's evolving artistry is comfortably evident, making his latest effort a strong and worthy listen for fans of intimate indie rock with an atmospheric twist. (Comino)