John Nolan has been a staple of the punk and emo scene for nearly twenty years now, first as the guitarist/co-lead vocalist and songwriter for rock powerhouses Taking Back Sunday, and then as the frontman for his more toned down, musically-focused project Straylight Run. In between his work with both bands, he’s released three full length solo albums. The guy apparently doesn’t like vacations.
On his latest solo work, Abendigo, coming out November 2nd, Nolan synthesizes his various stylistic impulses into a powerful album that will instantly appeal to those who have been following his career from the beginning.
Opener and first single “Do You Remember” is a moody, powerful cut that may evoke memories of Straylight’s excellent single “Hands to the Sky”. Sung from the point of a view of a haunted narrator, lamenting “We brought this on ourselves. Do you remember” with a pain-filled regret, the track chugs along with atmospheric harmonics, before bursting out the chorus with anguished vocals and intense percussive force.
Abendigo is full of stark dynamics and strong contrasts, and second track “Over Before It Begins” is a clear example. From the darkness of “Do You Remember”, the uplifting momentum of “Over” takes the listeners in new emotional directions, even as the songs lyrics describe losing connections to loved ones and friends; “Make it clever, make it count, when I say the words out loud, I know it’s over before it begins.” The soaring guitars and triumphant drumming bring elation, even as the narrative focuses on hurt and regret.
Nolan keeps things upbeat with “Half a Block to Go”, a stand-out, Strokes-esque jam, with one of the catchiest choruses he’s ever written. Opening with a quiet, acoustic fake-out, the track quickly picks up pace. Nolan examines the choices he’s made in life, wondering if “this was worth it”, and while he doesn’t come up with a clear answer, we listeners are rewarded with a clear future single from the album.
Those who prefer Nolan’s work with Straylight Run versus Taking Back Sunday will gravitate towards “Smiling and Alive”, an elegiac piano ballad that manages to be both mournful even as it seeks joy in the darkness. The echoing guitars and faint choir meld with layers of vocals that turn Nolan’s voice into a choir. The more somber mood of the album continues with “Outside of this Tragedy”, where we find Nolan pleading “When you leave, will you remember me?” It’s heartbreaking, and is only tempered by quirkier synths and rhythms that keep the song from wallowing in melancholy.
The album takes one more foray into rage with the dirty punk rock of “Anything You Want?” before drifting out on the elegant “Without You/Nothing is Over”, another piano-led track that recalls Elton John as it reaches into classical art rock territories. While it goes on a bit too long, it works as a closer for this expansive album. While only eight tracks long, each one stands its ground and makes an emotional impact that resonates. Nolan has truly grown as a songwriter and with Abendigo, he’s written his best solo work.