Straylight Run – About Time

By the time Straylight Run released their About Time EP, I had pretty much given up on the band. Like most of my peers, I had a special place in my heart for the melancholic angst parade that was Straylight Run (2004); and when the Prepare to Be Wrong EP was released in 2005, I found that I quite enjoyed it’s darker flavourings. The following few entries in the Straylight Run catalog, however, left me wanting: The Needles The Space was a bit too quirky for my tastes, and both the 3 Track EP and Un Mas Dos struck me as rather bland. So when About Time came to light in 2009, I didn’t pay it any attention at all. I had assumed that my time enjoying new music from John Nolan had come to an end.

But I was wrong. (I should have known; Straylight told me to prepare for this.)

I’m not sure what prompted me to invest four of my hard-earned dollars into About Time recently, but I’m glad that I did. It’s the only work Straylight Run has released since 2004 that comes close to matching the sound, mood, and atmosphere of their self-titled début. The album opens with the sizably named ‘I’m Through With the Past (But the Past Isn’t Through With Me),’ the chorus of which – an impressive rendering of the song’s title – is probably the catchiest thing that Nolan has belted out since ‘Hands In the Sky (Big Shot).’ It’s an uptempo song (relatively speaking, of course) built around a solid hook and the quiet/loud dichotomy that defines a lot of Straylight’s earlier successes; when the mellow bridge drives forward into a chorus-outro it’s hard not to bob your head in approval.

Nolan’s lyrics are also noteworthy. The (presumably autobiographical) narrator describes the difficulties of grappling with impending maturity as he tries to move away from his former alcohol chugging, teenage idol stage persona. With lines like “I became the patron saint of the depressed and the neglected. I left those days, those places, and that person all on tape. Absolved, I resolved to start again and never look back,” Nolan actually creates a rather compelling vision of the archetypal reformed-degenerate-struggling-to-find-meaning.

The EP’s two middle tracks offer similar, if less impressive, sounds. ‘The Great Compromise’ wonders about the merits of sacrificing your sense of self for the advancement of your band, when that sacrifice is essentially a dime a dozen (for the record, so are boys like you), while ‘Don’t Count Me Out’ pounds away with a titular refrain in what is one of the more aggressive songs in the Straylight Run arsenal (again, all terms are relative). Each of these songs have value, but neither is able to reach the bar set by the EP’s opener, or for that matter, its closer.

About Time concludes with ‘Mile After Mile,’ a song that might be the band’s best since Prepare to Be Wrong. It’s a song of very simple construction that excels at everything it attempts. The melody, for example, isn’t necessarily catchy, but it is certainly powerful – especially given the lyrical content and composition. Meanwhile the arrangement, which is by no means ground-breaking, very effectively builds to a satisfying and dramatic finale. Again, Nolan’s lyrics are shown to be rather more mature than they had been on previous releases, as ‘Mile After Mile’ deals predominantly with the domestic challenges of touring far from one’s home and loved ones. It’s a moving conclusion to an unexpectedly strong EP.

And so, it seems that I did Straylight Run an injustice by writing them off so many years ago. It looks like they had a little more to offer, and I urge anyone else who made the same mistake to check out About Time.

This post originally appeared at Type In Stereo.

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