John Nolan: Height

[rating:7/10]

John Nolan of Straylight Run

As a youth in northern NJ, I became very fond of the bands from the Long Island scene that frequented the firehalls and skating rinks that held shows each weekend. As I was in high school, I was limited to bands that played within an hour radius of my home, for the most part, and many bands from the surrounding states became staples in my live music diet. Most notably among these bands was one of my favorite punk/rock acts, The Movielife. Just before I left for college in early 2000, The Movielife brought another upstart LI band with them called Taking Back Sunday and I picked up a CD they hadwith them of some burnt tracks, including one I liked a lot called “Greatest Romances of the 20th Century”.

Not too long after I became a full-time co-ed at a Philadelphia, PA area university, it seemed that Taking Back Sunday had begun making some waves (along with their LI pop-punk buddies, Brand New), opening for large acts in the scene and touring nationally. I got the chance to see them again and they had a new lead singer, who I found to be too over the top as a performer, but I still loved some of their songs and really enjoyed their other vocalist… John Nolan.

Years later, having been out of college for 5 years and less immersed in the underground music scene, I have been given the privilege of reviewing the first solo effort from that same guitarist/vocalist from Taking Back Sunday, John Nolan. It appears that John has kept himself busy, leaving TBS to move in a different musical direction in 2003, forming Straylight Run (whom I know merely by their singles “Existentialism on Prom Night” and “Hands in the Sky”). And while, I have limited knowledge and experience with him more recent efforts, I was certain once I got this album for review there would be at least a track or two I’d enjoy and likely more.

Overall, I was right, there is definitely some stuff here that I enjoy. Nolan’s vocals are pretty solid throughout. The music ranges from folky (“Til It’s Done to Death”) to harsher tones that I’d only be able to describe as pseudo-industrial (“Screaming into the Wind”). A great effort that highlights a range in influences, but a distinct songwriting style. Nolan even treats us to a cover of a 90’s classic alt-radio track, “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand”, which stands true to the original sound a bit more than my liking despite the fact that it’s a good track (I prefer an artist to stamp a cover song with their own signature a bit more than Nolan does here).

There isn’t too much here that wows me, but nothing on the album really detracts from it being a solid product. It’s fair to say, even with a limited understanding of Straylight Run, that fans of Nolan’s other projects will enjoy what he has done here. I’d also recommend it for fans of Derek Webb, another solo artist I recently had the privilege of reviewing and interviewing. A good album with a few standout tracks (the upbeat “Keep Calm and Carry On” is my favorite) that harkens memories of my high school days in the scene… a nice way to spend some time in my office on a dreary day.

~ by thepaintedman on October 29, 2009.

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