Review Summary: Fail and fail and try again, one day I swear I'm gonna get it
It's strange what time can do to an album. Straylight Run
has long now firmly held a place as one of my favorite albums of all time but I could never quite say why; all I knew was that putting it on felt like waking up to a message request from an old friend telling you they're sorry for losing touch and saying "remember when ?" It is despondent on the piano and glockenspiel dirge 'The Perfect Ending' and then manically bursting at the seams with lust and self-loathing on the fumbling over itself 'The Tension and The Terror'. It's formative and instructive like that: it swings from passionate to pathetic to schmaltzy to gritty in bright and broad displays of emotion, spelling out the hardships of growing up, or failing to. It's telling that one of the most despairing lines here laments 'a failed attempt to capsulise a feeling
', squirming uncomfortably at the notion of ambiguity. The album spends most of its effort desperately trying to resolve ugly feelings as soon as humanly possible, viewing life as a ticking time bomb of awkward and ungainly emotions.
But time has been kind to Straylight Run
twofold. As age has opened my eyes to nuance that can be found here, the irresistible pull of nostalgia drags me back to freshman year, sitting in my room with Tom skipping fifth period again, eyes closed-"god, this part is so
good, man". I listen to these songs and they open themselves up for me like never before, not in an over dramatic reveal but instead quietly and slyly suggesting the overwhelming darkness isn't quite so definitive. Lyrics like 'there's no perfect ending
' are now preceded by the more tempered and wise 'just keep moving on
', and what once read as a self-indulgent dash to outpace negativity now registers as an acknowledgement of a flawed but reasonable acceptance that neither happiness or sadness are concrete. While hardly profound, this shade of deeper meaning to old favorites ensures Straylight Run
holds up over the years and then some.
Comfortably splitting the difference between Taking Back Sunday's extroverted angst and Brand New's dour catharsis, Straylight Run doesn't do anything too novel but pack enough variety and heartfelt authenticity to keep things consistently engaging and affecting (barring the ghastly and entirely out of place techno misstep of "Tool Sheds and Hot Tubs"). It's not what the music does, it's how it does it. Hit single "Existentialism on Prom Night" is an absolutely gorgeous and refreshingly positive ballad that reaches multiple stunning heights, from the way the piano ascends to accentuate a brief but heavenly harmony between siblings John and Michelle Nolan to the moment when a climax of gritty yells by John is met in stride by a wash of slightly ethereal violin. In contrast, following track "Another Word For Desperate" is a churning mid-tempo rally of contempt, meandering through twinkly verses before a lurching and powerful chorus gives way to a restless climax of grand pounding piano and weeping strings underscoring a bravura John Nolan wearily yelling 'I won't be around here for too very long
'. The songs exist as polar opposites musically and emotionally but coincide gracefully as a cataloguing of what it is to be a teenager-young adult, experiences clashing with sensations. Straylight Run
might not be the most innovative or complex album but it remains impressive in its consistency. I listen to these songs again and again and they still manage to reveal something new while reminding me of why I loved them in the first place; that's the true mark of a timeless classic.