Busyhead by Noah Kahan: Album Review/Analysis


Fiona Daley

After the release of his new contemporary folk album Stick Season, Kahan revealed that his first album, Busyhead, was not his most authentic work because of pressure from his label to write more pop hits like “Hurt Somebody” featuring Julia Michaels which topped the charts in several countries. However, this doesn’t mean the album is shallow or meaningless. On the contrary, Busyhead is full of masterful lyricism and heartfelt musings despite underlying pressures or motives. In this album, Kahan shares his experiences ranging from loss of oneself, to loss of love, to loss of a loved one, and all the stages in between. Each song fits cohesively with the title and gives us some empathy and new perspectives to help us understand our “Busyheads” a little better.

Track 1. “False Confidence:” This song starts off the album perfectly by cutting deep into our souls from the very beginning. It does this with statements that call out our doubts and false confidences. It then exposes Kahan’s own doubts which the listeners can relate to. All the while keeping an upbeat rhythm that builds in the chorus, and drops with the weight of emotion in the bridge. This song is worthy of blasting in the car on a sunset drive, screaming along feeling every word to your core. It will resonate with anyone who has doubts, regrets, and hopes, three themes that tie this album together throughout.

Favorite lyric: “I fill the void up with polished doubt, fake sentiment.”

Track 2. “Mess:” Kahan dives into the realm of regrets for this next song. As can be told from the title, this is a song about messiness and wanting to start over. Messiness in the past, the present, and the mind. However, it is not a song saying everything can or will be perfect or clean. It’s a song about accepting the messiness of life as a fact and being okay with it. Embracing the mess. The song is a tale of what he would do if he could get his “old life” back, resolving with the bridge “It’s not what I had hoped/ Now I find comfort in the cold.” To me, that wraps it up as to say that he’s okay with things not being perfect or what he hoped. He can find comfort in even the cold because it’s just what there is, at least it’s something.

Favorite lyric: “I would prove myself wrong that all along the problem was me/ with all my bitterness gone happy, I’ll be.”

Track 3. “Hurt Somebody:” Despite the possible negative impacts on Kahan’s creativity because of this song, it actually contains more depth than just a catchy tune and collaboration with a well known artist. The song touches a very tender nerve with the fact that “it hurts when you hurt somebody.” It’s about being scared to end something when it’s going to hurt no matter what. Kahan expresses the pain of this situation with each line like a little cut that stings when the vocals pour over it. The realness, melody, and vocals of this song are all good reasons for this song to have been on top charts.

Favorite lyric: “I let the rules bend/ when I knew that all along they were made to break.”

Track 4. “Youngblood:” Kahan wrote this song as a letter to his younger self. I love it because it’s so hopeful, both in the lyrics and the sound of the song. It’s a very therapeutic song to listen to and was to write I presume. What I love most is that this is obviously a very personal song to Kahan, he is sharing a personal letter to himself with us to be able to relate to. That, in itself, takes courage that his younger self would be proud of I think. So many people can relate to this song: anyone who wishes they could tell their younger selves something, which I’m pretty sure is all of us. Again, the themes of doubt, regret, and hope occur in this song, tying it into the album as a whole as well.

Favorite lyric: “I spend nights stitching up the loose threads of my soul/ in the morning I’m bulletproof.”

Track 5. “Busyhead:” The title track of the album is perfectly placed as the middle track, making it really tie everything together. The mix of melancholy and hope is perfectly balanced in this song, leaving you feeling both completely seen and consoled. This song sheds light on the fact that we are all “all alone inside your busyhead.” No one can know what’s going on inside our heads but us. However, this song reveals the paradox that we’re not all alone because everyone is. I think everyone could find at least one lyric in this song they could relate to.

Favorite lyric: “All your big plans are small the next day, you can’t wait to throw them away.”

Track 6. “Cynic:” Of all the songs on the album, if any, this is the one that strikes me as being a pop-hit-wannabe. Stripped down to an acoustic version with more folk tones like his new album, I think this song could strum the heartstrings more. As it is, I think the upbeat pop instrumentation covers up the vulnerability of this song. It’s like when celebrities post a “no makeup” picture but are obviously wearing some makeup. This song feels the same: like it might be partially real but is too polished and produced to be fully so. That’s not to say it isn’t a good song though, it is catchy and touches the surface of emotion, just doesn’t dive to the bottom.

Favorite lyric: “Leave it to life to turn my strengths back into weaknesses.”

Track 7. “Save Me:” This is a tragic and beautiful song about the awe that comes when someone loves you so much to love you even in your darkest moments. However, the complexity comes with doubting they do know and love the true you, but rather, are not seeing the whole picture. This song fits perfectly in this album because at the core, it’s about being a “busyhead:” overthinking and doubting yourself. Ultimately, you are the only one who can save
yourself from that situation which is where the tragedy of this song comes in, tying back to “Busyhead” as well. Kahan expresses the pain of this situation perfectly with the imagery of treading water while a hand is being offered to pull you out. You can either put your trust in the hand to pull you out, or panic and drown yourself in your own waves.

Favorite lyric: “And sometimes I pray/ That maybe I will change/ Into who you think I am.”

Track 8. “Sink:” This song goes hand in hand with the last song. “Save me” is about sinking because of your own doubts, “Sink” is about finding the person who can make you truly forget those doubts and “never sink again.” It’s hard to quiet the voices in our heads. This song is about being willing to make the effort to do that for someone else: the person you would do anything for.

Favorite lyric: “high hopes don’t last me very long/ winding roads, they never seem to stop and I’ll sink.”

Track 9. “Tidal:” I think this is the most underrated song on the album. It holds one of the deepest meanings, even under the more pop style instrumentation, which I think works well in this song to accentuate the lyrics, making them reverberate through the soul. The lyrics perfectly encapsulate the themes of regret, doubt, and hope. This is a song about being alone and being okay with that. It’s a perfect song as the second to last because it’s about self acceptance. This song embodies the feeling of perseverance past loss, whether it be loss of a lifestyle, an emotion, or a person.

Favorite lyric: “Sometimes I get this feeling I’ve been breathing someone else’s air”

Track 10. “Carlo’s Song:” Kahan ends the album on a note of closure for himself with an ode to a lost friend. It is tragic and beautiful. He does justice to both honoring his friend’s legacy and describing grief for listeners to relate to. The mask is ripped off with this song, it is a slice of Kahan’s heart — raw and completely vulnerable. This song embodies the power of music to connect people and through sharing it, Kahan has opened up his “busyhead” to others, allowing us in at least the entryway so we are all a little less alone.

Favorite lyric: “I guess I just got busy, only saw you every other weekend/ Lord, I just moved to this city hoping noise drowns out the regret.”

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