Straylight Run features John Nolan and Shaun Cooper, formerly of Taking Back Sunday. On its self-titled Victory Records debut, the band incorporates some emo cues, such as grand choruses and dramatic, self-examining lyrics. However, the songwriting is more varied than many in that genre offer in the mid-2000s. Led by Nolan's expressive vocal presence, as well as the piano work of him and his sister, Michelle Nolan (who also handles harmonies and the occasional lead vocal), Straylight Run ranges from melancholy ballads, through mature pop, to the occasional decision to turn up the power chords. Given this tasteful, measured approach, it's no surprise that Straylight's toured with both Hot Rod Circuit and the New Amsterdams, the intimate side project of Get Up Kids' Matt Pryor. Opener "The Perfect Ending" strikes a deliberately contemplative note, its stripped-bare vocal and meaningful piano chording mood matching the hazy, forgotten memory quality of the album's accompanying photography. "Another Word for Desperate" and "Tension and Terror" are much livelier; with their shifting parts and interplay between piano, strings, and electric guitar; they're templates for making great emo in the 21st century. The quieter "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making" and "Your Name Here [Sunrise Highway]" each begin with brushed snare and gentle piano before building to undeniably urgent choruses. But they also throw some interesting curves, like the intricately layered bridge in "Mistakes" that breaks at its peak into the chorus, or "Your Name Here"'s striking lyrical honesty. While it's a well-crafted and obviously very personal album, Straylight Run can occasionally get a little too dramatic. But this tendency is lessened by "Tool Sheds and Hot Tubs." With its whirring synths, upbeat electronic percussion and bright lead vocal by Michelle Nolan, it could be a No Doubt B-side. "It's for the Best" is another late-album highlight. Working with one of the album's strongest melodies, John Nolan is joined by his sister and Format frontman Nate Ruess on a chorus in the round. All together Straylight Run has crafted a fine debut. It will certainly please emo fans, but gets more points for bringing new ideas to the genre.
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus