Singer-songwriter Noah Kahan has a sound that feels instantly nostalgic. His debut album, Busyhead, is comforting in the way of an old, familiar ache. His lyrics capture a bittersweet echo of the past, while also projecting hope onto the future.
The character of his voice is reminiscent of Quinn XCII (an artist with whom Kahan has collaborated in the past). Both have a distinctive vocal quality that diverges from the smooth pop sound that so many artists strive to achieve. This works in Kahan’s favor — his unique vocals are emotional and authentic, which serves the highly autobiographical Busyhead well.
Kahan’s lyrics often take the form of earnest pleading — with life, with an unnamed person, even with himself. In “Save Me,” this theme takes its most literal form as he expresses self-doubt and apprehension, asking, “Why do you keep reaching for my hand? Do you see something I can’t? Why do you try to save me?”
Busyhead opens with the grounded, stripped-down introduction of “False Confidence.” The isolated acoustic guitar picks out a melody that compels listeners with a controlled urgency. “Look at you all dressed up for someone that you never see,” Kahan sings in a somber tone.
The song soon builds up, layering in a more produced sound that establishes the album’s overall theme of combining intimate, weighty verses with bright, resonant choruses. This effect, applied in varying ways throughout the album, ensures that the journey from the first track to the last is not static. Kahan clearly appreciates the importance of variation in an album with such a cohesive sound.
“Young Blood” offers a fresh perspective on the otherwise tired “we are young” trope. Kahan takes a more melancholy approach, contrasting youthful energy with the weight of growing up too soon. He urges, “Rub your eyes, be surprised, keep hungry. Stay alive, try to lose all of your money.”
The closing track, “Carlo’s Song” serves as the invigorating culmination of Busyhead. This conclusion surpasses expectations by summarizing the nostalgic and hopeful tone of the album in one painful but healing finale.
The impact of grief is a theme that can quickly be diminished by cliché, but Kahan side-steps this hazard by using vulnerable details from his past.
The lyrics offer a personal account of Kahan’s grieving process as he sings, “We listen to ‘Only The Good Die Young’ and we laugh about its statement,” with a bittersweet sense of irony. In this song, he relives the past while regret keeps him from moving on. For the listener, the memories in the lyrics are not universal, but the emotions behind them are.