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Straylight Run debut an instant classic

Michele Jeffers | Thursday, November 11, 2004

John Nolan and Shaun Cooper took a big chance with their careers when they left Taking Back Sunday at the height of its success in 2003, but they were compelled by irreconcilable artistic differences with the band. However, separation proved to make Nolan and Cooper’s art grow fonder as they teamed up with former Breaking Pangea drummer Will Noon, and Nolan’s younger sister, Michelle Nolan, on keyboard and background vocals to form Straylight Run. Without even releasing an album, Straylight Run has already acquired a loyal following from extensive touring and from making the demo songs available online for free.

On Oct. 12, however, the band finally released its highly anticipated debut album on Victory Records. With mostly piano and guitar-driven tracks, Straylight Run’s self-titled album progresses in a very different direction from Taking Back Sunday. Whereas John was previously known for his intense screaming in back up for TBS, he maintains more composure on lead vocals, while still earnestly delivering moving inflection throughout the album. Simplicity and sincerity prevail over ostentatious outbursts in Straylight Run’s music, yet manages to affect you just as strongly.

Ironically, the first song on the album is called “The Perfect Ending.” Accompanied by the piano and under-used glockenspiel, a slightly wistful John reflects upon the differences that led to the division in Taking Back Sunday. Rather than pointing blame, John reveals the band’s acceptance with the past as he sings, “And if it’s over/Just remember what I told ya/It was bound to happen so just/Keep moving on/ There’s no perfect endings.” Despite the title, this song is the perfect beginning for the album by creating a sense of closure with the past and by affirming an identity independent of Taking Back Sunday.

Straylight Run picks up the pace on the second track, “The Tension and the Terror.” The energy of this flowing melody is continually driven up as John passionately delivers lyrics capturing one’s inability to move beyond the fear and anxiety that gets in one’s way of following his heart.

The very title of the next track, however, necessitates moving past the tension and the terror because we are the one’s who control our lives and destinies. “Existentialism on Prom Night” begins softly with the piano on solo, but it is immediately intensified with the abrupt entrance of John’s voice, which is propelled by the percussion. “Exist- entialism” is an absolutely beautiful song that manages to convey the ineffable feeling that everything in your world is perfectly in balance. Both Michelle and John bring you into an enchanting rapture as they repeat, “Sing me something soft/ Sad and delicate/ or loud and out of key/ sing me anything/ we’re glad for what we’ve got/ done with what we’ve lost/ Our whole lives laid out right in front of us.”

Michelle shows that talent definitely runs in the family as she steps up to lead vocals on two tracks. After the dreamy little number, “Your Name Here (Sunrise Highway),” Straylight Run shakes things up when Michelle takes lead vocal in “Tool Sheds and Hot Tubs,” which resembles a dance song by Kylie Minogue. However, Michelle best demonstrates her capability as a lead vocalist through her haunting delivery of “Now it’s Done,” in which she laments over the “memories of what didn’t last.”

In short, this CD is absolutely incredible and should be at the very top of your Christmas lists this year. Straylight Run is the result of the members’ commitment to fulfilling their vision, which has materialized into something that is definitely worth the long wait for its realization. The album evades predictability and keeps you pulled in until the very end. It gets five shamrocks not only because of its amazing music, but also because of Straylight Run’s enormous potential. As long as the members of Straylight Run maintain the sincerity and vision that has brought them to where they are today, there is no doubt that these existentialists will carve out a bright future.