In the land of great music, only a few bands are able to consistently appeal to the heart. Some you know, like Coldplay. Others you don't. Straylight Run is one of these bands. After wasting time with the rarely inspiring Taking Back Sunday, songwriting duo John Nolan and Shaun Cooper broke away and became Straylight Run. Still lacking a permanent drummer or another guitarist, Straylight Run was in a small rut. That problem was soon fixed with the addition of Will Noon as a percussionist, and John's sister Michelle on piano and guitar. And most importantly, backup vocals. Signing under Victory Records (The same crap label who brought you Hawthorne Heights), Straylight Run's self titled debut was released in 2004 under much hype and incredible expectations. The result: An album with some incredible numbers and many numbers lacking musical brilliance, but contain the emotion that would make the band's debut one of my favorite albums of 2005.
When the quartet mesh's all of their talents together in louder, more upbeat pieces, Straylight Run's passion is no more evident. When Straylight Run turns up the power chords, the result is near orgasmic, and I mean that in quite the literal sense. When I first heard the absolutely magnificent Existentianalism on Prom Night
, I was floored. Existentianalism begins with a magnificent piano intro by John, then his crystal clear vocals set the tone for the only famous Straylight Run song. His words are not only powerful, but they truly capture an uplifting feel, one of encouragement and love, like "Sing Like You Think No One's Listening/ You would kill for this, just a little bit". Behind that line are Michelle's lovely harmonies, sending one into a swirl of complete vegatation. John's reprised chorus in which he takes the upper range of his voice, shouting out those powerful lyrics, is something to truly cherish. The instrumentation behind that is damn magnificent. Powerful and swirling, it gives one the impression of losing oneself in a song. This effect is given off to a much lesser effect on the upbeat The Tension and the Terror
. Detailing the fear before confessing ones love, Tension has the will to be as good as the classics on here. However, a lack of power just keeps this song at the "solid level". It does have a neat guitar solo by John, and more great harmonies by Michelle. John's vocals perfectly capture what the song is about again, filled with passion and fear. Just like music should be.
From start to finish, Straylight Run is able to pull you in and keep you interested. Working on emotional melodies, but power-filled lyrics, the aura created by John's vocals work to perfection. His voice not only has an amazing range, but is also able to shout is tones both magnificent and gut-wrenching. Never is his vocal work more apparent than in the tracks where the instruments leave John alone to hum his lyrics. Tracks like the ironically placed The Perfect Ending
. Stripped to the bone, with nothing but piano and some beautiful bellwork done by Will behind him, John sighs his uplifting extrospective lyrics with mounting tension. Though it does drag a little bit at a long 5 minutes, that is forgetable when looking at it in retrospect, and remembering the moments when you got lost in the effervescence produced. A similar effect is created by the touching homage Your Name Here (Sunrise Highway)
. With an interesting beat put behind it by Will, Sunrise Highway showcases John's voice as Perfect Ending did. Serving as something of an interlude for the album, Sunrise Highway is a good blend of the band's talents, using nothing but passion again to create an amazing song. It does miss the tension that Perfect Ending created however, leading to a forgetable track, though John's voice doth carry it for what it is.
Unfortuneately, not all tracks can be gems. Some tracks attempt to hit the passion and power created by Existentianalism On Prom Night, but none of them succeed. The attempt at power on tracks like Mistakes We Knew We Were Making
and Dignity and Money
merely come off as whining. Unfortuneatley reverting back to the trap that so many of Taking Back Sunday's songs fall into, John's songwriting hits a rut. Tracks 4-8 can be considered filler, although some may find them interesting. But some tracks drag and never truly climax. Another Word For Depseate
, for example, goes and goes for about 4 and a half minutes without any sign of change, until a random coda pops in at the end with some violins. Jonh's screaming and Michelles pretty though not beautiful harmonies make for a nice try, but the overall effect is missing. But something truly pointless is Michelle taking the lead on two songs. Both Toolsheds and Hot Tubs
and Now It's Done
try to recreate the emotion given off by John's voice, but there's no charm, no pain underneath the shell to draw me in. Too much filler in the middle makes for a prolonged and somewhat boring listen. But never fear, for there will be one song, one powerful, truly brilliant song that will get your attention back, and make you love Straylight Run too.
If there was one track that truly made me fall in love, truly made me who I am today, it'd have to be the dizzying, maddening Sympathy For The Martyr
. The conclusion to the album, Sympathy incorporates everything Straylight Run has to make itself so fantastic. Piano driven verses, Michelle's marvelous harmonies, and one hell of an anthematic second verse are all here. The song starts off nice and slow, but explode with John crying some beautiful themes ("A laundry list of problems doesn't make you interesting/and Never getting help doesnt make you brave/ Not listening to reason doesn't mean that you have faith
/You're just cutting off your nose to spite your face"). This is followed by some excellently harmonized "Ba Ba Da Da's" that are puncuated by some powerful tom rolls by Will. One could say tey drag, but when listening to them inside headphones, one does not want them to end. One wants to stay wrapped within their beauty and Michelle's voice, and that piano forever. HItting us with a bang, then fading out with some great beauty and harmony, Straylight Run makes sure that their debut album will be one your heart remembers forever.
Musically, Straylight Run is a topnotch, and very talented group. John and Michelle's piano work is consistently fantastic, as is their songwriting. When meshing together, John and Michelle form some of the most beautiful sounds ever. Michelle's instrument is really her voice, and when she takes the backround and airily sighs her pain over John's lead, one can always look at two sides of the song. For example, on the "Ba Ba Da Da's" of Sympathy for the Martyr, John's driving vocals give off anger and hate. Michelle's lovely backround give off more of a bittersweet, faith-lost tone, creating two sides in a sneering anthem. Though they can't recreate this effect on every track, there are a few when they truly shine together. Will Noon's drums are consistently (and surprisngly) very good for someone of this genre. Never overbearing the songs, but always keeping a steady beat with crazy rhytyms helps Straylight Run get much respect in the indie crowd. While original bandmate Shaun Cooper's bass is never more than root notes, it helps provide solid backround at times when the song needs to be loud. Their surprising musical talent for someone of this genre gave me a few smiles while listening to the album.
Straylight's debut is an amzing, beautiful piece of work complete with not only some truly sensational anthem-ballads, but also with solid tracks in the middle. While the middle section is a bit of a letdown in comparison to the great beginning and ending, there is really no terrible track, one where you could point to and say "God, this sucks." It's a must buy if you like adult music, and really have no rebellion in you. If you want to break away from that Simple Plan album you have playing in the backround right now, I'd suggest picking this up. ASAP.
Sympathy For The Martyr
Existentianalism on Prom Night
The Perfect Ending
The Tension And The Terror
Beautiful harmonies by Michelle
Surprisingly good instrumental work all wround
The beginning and end
John's crisp vocals
A weaker middle section
Not much basswork
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