Nighttime can be a cruel bastard, reopening wounds you thought were closed. SISTERS and Noah Gundersen’s “Wrong Side” understands what it’s like to wake up under siege by memory.
Must Peep Monday #19
Nighttime, gorgeous and peaceful as it may be, can also fling wide the floodgates of emotions and memories that are easier processed or ignored in the sunlight. We’ve all been blindsided by pangs of turmoil under inky skies at some point; the returning bruises from long ago rushing back like ice water that don’t even seem fair, because just hours ago you were fine — not even through denial — actually fine!
“Wrong Side,” a song by Noah Gundersen and SISTERS, is an ode to the tragic return of long-gone memories facilitated by an all-too-quiet twilight, and the hurt, confusion, and loneliness that comes along with them.
“Wrong Side” features elements of folk/country ballads in its musical style, with splashy, reverb-washed guitar twangs, a strong piano foundation, and forlorn, longing lyricism. Gundersen and SISTERS make generous use of echoes and reverb to create a dreamy, expansive openness to the song. This spatiality cleverly parallels the somber subject matter, evoking the feeling of being in a large, empty space all by yourself.
I’m a sucker for any songs that incorporate the saxophone. It’s an undeniably suave, smooth, sexy instrument that modern music has largely neglected, much to my dismay. The inclusion of the sax takes “Wrong Side” from a solid jam to a truly unique bop (yes, a jam and a bop are very different things). The rest of the instrumentation wouldn’t typically be associated with saxophones, so it’s a bold, inventive decision with a big payoff, adding a layer of personality and flair that translates its unconventionality into engagement on the part of the listener.
Among Gundersen’s strong suits is his ability to craft evocative, impressionistic lyrics that have a clear “feeling” even when the specifics aren’t set in stone. In the chorus, he sings, “Your memory is soft around the eyes,” which doesn’t clarify any specifics the more you think about it, but the use of the word “soft” evokes the sense of a hazy, distant memory that’s fading but not quite gone.
For the second half of the refrain, Gundersen sings: “And I’m mostly being honest / when I tell you that I’m fine / ‘til I wake up in the middle of the night / on the wrong side.” It’s a simple, succinct stanza that carries so much meaning in just a few lines. The “wrong side” most likely refers to the side of his bed that belonged to his former partner when they were together. Though he might be “mostly being honest” when he says he’s moved on, these middle-of-the-night moments catch him disarmed and vulnerable, and serve as a painful reminder of what he hasn’t fully let go of yet.
The verse features a subtle, fascinating structure that all music nerds will go wild for. However, you don’t need to be a Music Theory major to appreciate what’s going on here; whereas most songs loop in sets of four — be it four beats, four measures, or four verses — “Wrong Side” alternates between three-beat and four-beat measures, creating strong forward movement and a slightly uneasy feel to the rhythm.
This kind of structural gymnastics in music is tough to pull off convincingly — our brains are hard-wired to process music in groups of four, right down to the first songs we hear as children. Gundersen and SISTERS maneuver this lopsided structure in a way that feels natural, assisted by the driving, prominent drums that ground the rhythm with fat, punchy snares and expressive fills.
We’ve all been there, and we’re all likely to return again. In the vast empty space of night, things hidden during our frenetic days resurface to haunt us. To hear Gundersen put it, sometimes you just “wake up in the middle of the night / on the wrong side.” In those moments where you find yourself suddenly awake, all alone, on the wrong side of the bed, it’s nice to have the company of a song that understands.