Our Take: Noah Kahan’s Intimate ‘Busyhead’ Is a Powerfully Moving Debut Album

Busyhead - Noah Kahan
Busyhead - Noah Kahan

Mitch's Take

10 Music Quality
8 Production
10 Content Originality
10 Memorability
9 Lyricism
8 Sonic Diversity
8 Arranging
Singer/songwriter Noah Kahan’s debut album Busyhead delivers an intense outpouring of emotions through breathtaking melodies and equally moving lyrics.

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Living a good life (to most) means finding a balance between extremes: The high highs of joy, and the low lows of despair. We cannot spend every waking minute in celebration, just as we should not wile away in the dark depths of sorrow, fear, or anger. The key, I believe, is a healthy mix of the entire spectrum – an equilibrium of sorts, although it’s up to each individual to figure out what works for them. The one thing no one can teach is experience – hence, we’ll spend years coping with certain events and their accompanying emotions, consequences, and so on.

“I miss the days when one
was better than the last.
I miss the days of growing pains
I knew would pass.
I miss those thoughts, and that fear of losing.
I don’t know why I see no light in anything.
Leave it to life to turn my strengths
back into weaknesses,
but I’m living with ’em.”
– “Cynic,” Noah Kahan
Busyhead - Noah Kahan
Busyhead – Noah Kahan

While most embark upon this gargantuan task on their own, singer/songwriter Noah Kahan is sharing his personal journey of reflection and self-discovery through his music. The 22-year-old’s debut album Busyhead delivers an intense outpouring of emotions through breathtaking melodies and equally moving lyrics. Released June 14, 2019 via Republic Records, Busyhead promises to be a special debut and a highlight of the year.

Perhaps best known for his worldwide smash hit “Hurt Somebody” with pop musician Julia Michaels, Noah Kahan’s career has taken off over the past two years — at least, that’s the narrative both publicists and fans alike want to share. This is true by most measures of “success,” what with the widespread popularity of Kahan’s 2018 EP and subsequent singles, as well as his recent tours supporting everyone from James Bay to Dean Lewis.

Listen: Busyhead – Noah Kahan

Speaking to Atwood Magazine earlier this year, Kahan observed the crests and troughs within his own upward trajectory, acknowledging the differences not only between perception and reality, but also between the idea of success and what success actually looks like:

“The more success you have, the more your career becomes your life,” the singer/songwriter shared. “If you allow yourself to be fully immersed in your career and let that become your entire personality, you start to lose, I think, a little bit of what you had before — and that’s really scary for me. I get really scared of changing, and of losing a part of myself. I think I try to explore that feeling in songwriting, so I can at least be cognizant of it. It’s really hard to go from doing this kind of thing, to going home and trying to feel normal and live the life you had before.”

Busyhead is a powerfully self-aware coming-of-age soundtrack grappling with life’s trials and triumphs.

Opening with the driving “False Confidence,” Kahan sets the scene with an immediate and introspective reckoning full of both bark and bite. The record then proceeds into its lead single “Mess,” global hit “Hurt Somebody,” and Kahan’s debut single “Young Blood,” before introducing listeners to a new song: The bittersweet, subdued title track, “Busyhead.”

I draw secrets, the sky’s your weakness
You lose yourself inside your busy head
– “Busyhead,” Noah Kahan

Most of the debut’s tracks will be familiar to fans, but rest assured that Kahan still has a few surprises in store. Most of these come to bear in the record’s second half, which kicks off with the infectious melodies and incredibly raw lyricism of “Cynic” – undoubtedly a highlight of Kahan’s intimate songwriting prowess. Kahan’s vulnerability radiates ever-more intensely as he bares his soul on “Save Me” and “Tidal,” the latter containing numerous poetic gems that should give listeners pause and hopefully lead us down thoughtful rabbit holes of our own:

Sometimes I get this feeling I’ve been breathing someone else’s air.

Noah Kahan © Josh Goleman
Noah Kahan © Josh Goleman

Kahan’s evocative lyricism is such that every song of his seems to have its own special lesson or important message. Sometimes that involves the narrator having a change of heart or coming to a big realization, but more often than not these conclusions are nuanced and too complex for any single-line summary. You get out of Busyhead what you put into it; waiting for those big choruses will offer some degree of release, but listening – really listening – to Kahan in his entirety provides the greateus, most meaningful payoff. When one listens this way, Kahan’s debut becomes as about him as it is about us and our journeys, trials, and triumphs.

For those interested in the record’s curious title, Kahan dove in with great detail:

Busyhead is kind of a cool story. When I was in high school, our high school was full of like bored kids… We would drink and smoke, do shit on the weekends which led to a lot of citations and arrests. I got arrested two times in high school, and basically (this is a really crazy privilege if you think about it in the context of crime in America right now), we would go to a divergence class where you could take a day-long course, and they would allow the punishment to be wiped off your record. You just had to go in and talk about alcohol, drug abuse, and stuff. So they put you in with a therapist, who asks you a bunch of checklist questions about your tendencies with drinking and substance abuse and anxiety, depression. If you get a certain amount of checks (you check all the boxes if you have a lot of issues), they would put you in the “busy head” category, and that’s where I was.”
“I thought that kind of embodied how I feel I am. I like the idea of Busyhead representing anxiety, deep thought, perspective, and stuff like that. I ended up writing a song called “Busy Head” in L.A. with Dan Wilson, and that’s what I ended up calling the record!”
Noah Kahan © Josh Goleman
Noah Kahan © Josh Goleman

Noah Kahan spent the bulk of the past four years writing, developing, and growing – cataloging life experiences and trying to tell snippets of his story in song. Busyhead is the carefully-curated culmination of all that hard work: At the tender age of 22, the talented singer/songwriter has released an emotionally intelligent and inquisitive debut album whose melodies and lyrics are sure to stick with us as a musical wellspring of inspiration, validation, and refuge.

Stream Noah Kahan’s Busyhead, out now!

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Busyhead - Noah Kahan

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? © Josh Goleman


an album by Noah Kahan

Inside Noah Kahan’s Beautiful Mess


Noah Kahan’s ‘Hurt Somebody’ Triumphs with Heartache & Doubt

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