Ben Kunder is the kind of guy you pray sits next to you on a long-haul flight. Affable, erudite, and full of riveting tales about the ordinary and the extraordinary — and the intersection where they converge — Kunder is a storyteller of the highest order.
So, it’s no surprise that Better Human, the Toronto singer/songwriter’s dazzling new album and confident follow-up to 2015’s internationally acclaimed Golden, soars on vividly detailed vignettes elevated by Kunder’s warm conversational voice and, like Golden, by a small army of marquee musical guests.
Expertly traversing that rarefied space between elegiac folk and accessible pop, Kunder’s music — propelled variously by strings, pedal steel, keyboards, percussion, guitar, bass, and those spectacular before-mentioned voices — renders small moments in precise detail, making his songs both accessible and, occasionally, downright palpable.
Diving deep into Better Human — both the album and the title song which is slated to receive an accompanying video — is an excellent way to begin that process. With its shimmering lead guitar and joyful chorus (“I’m working harder every day, to be a better human in this world, tattoo these words onto my skin”), “Better Human” is a tiny, perfect anthem for self-realization.
Elsewhere, Kunder lightens it up, as in the breezy, propulsive “Jessi,” buoyed equally by bloopy synth and by Kunder’s onetime Europe tour-mate Sarah McDougall, who adds backup vocals. Meanwhile, the unabashedly knock-kneed “Come On,” gorgeously abetted by Carleigh Aikins, is a tender reminder that love really is all you need.
Kunder spent most of 2017 assembling Better Human, beginning with the songs “Better Days” and “Night Sky,” which were cut that spring with multi-instrumentalist/producer Aaron Goldstein at his Baldwin Street Sound in Toronto.
Writing happened throughout the year. “My first record, Golden, was a collection of songs I’d been working on for years,” Kunder says. “Now, it’s a bit more immediate. The title track was written the day I went into the studio, and ‘Come On’ I wrote halfway through the recording process. I was struggling leading up to the recording. Then I went on tour with Oh Susanna at the end of last summer and the floodgates just opened.”
Kunder and Goldstein reunited at Baldwin Street Sound last fall, welcoming a host of esteemed players — bassist Anna Ruddick (Randy Bachman, Bry Webb, Ben Caplan), Arkells drummer Tim Oxford and keyboardist Anthony Carone, violinist Drew Jurecka, Wintersleep drummer Loel Campbell, among others — while crafting the superb album that will now dominate the balance of Kunder’s 2018 via tour dates across Canada, Europe, and beyond.
“I realize it’s hard to know where to put me,” Kunder offers when asked where he’d expect to find Better Human filed. “I just write songs and hope people relate to them. I think there are people like me who listen to albums the whole way through, to hear the arc of the story. Others want to pick out specific songs to soundtrack their lives.
“I’m happy with either kind of listener. I really just want to connect with as many people as I can in any way possible.”
Tickets can be purchased at the door or the link https://www.ionaheightsinn.com/eventing/ben-kunder/