Throughout Chris McCaughan's work with his acoustic side project Sundowner, what's been amazing hasn't been how different it is from the Lawrence Arms, but how similar. On Neon Fiction, his third album with the band, it's clear that underneath the surface of the band's plaintive acoustic offerings is the spine of a punk band. These aren't just punk songs slowed down to a tired pace, though. Rather, Neon Fiction showcases McCaughan's knack for redirecting the energy of his songwriting into something more reserved and focused, providing listeners with a more mature take on punk rock that doesn't devolve into adult contemporary. Its languid, country-inflected sound has a wistful, reflective vibe about it, making this an album that's perfect for moments of lonely contemplation away from the brash drive of the Lawrence Arms; a kind of musical getaway, if you will. Another benefit of Sundowner's quieter sound is its ability to get in a little closer to the listener, allowing McCaughan's confessional songwriting to feel more like a personal conversation than an angry sentiment shouted at no one in particular, as in "Poet of Trash," where McCaughan confesses "I was the hack of the class/Armed with a broken pen in my hand/I was a poet of trash/Recycled lines like bottles and cans." Such personal statements feel more meaningful in this context, as if they were secrets revealed in the afterglow of a late night out with an old friend, and they provide fans of the band with a perspective of Chris McCaughan not only as a musician, but as a living, breathing person.
AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney