On the latest solo effort from John Nolan, Abendigo, he continues to stretch the boundaries and imaginations of what a record can be, with very favorable results. Giving the production reins to the trusted tutelage of Mike Sapone (Taking Back Sunday, Mayday Parade), Nolan delivers a terrific LP sure to tide his fans over until the next TBS record hits the streets.
On the intense opener and first single, “Do You Remember?” Nolan gets the dark tones out of the way early with a brooding track. The first thing I noticed on this great song is the elements he brought from Taking Back Sunday into his now third solo disc. For example, the basic song structure of the chant and response back is classic TBS, but with a much darker and electronic-tinged edge to it. It all just seems to click as a great opener of an album that is arguably his best solo effort to date.
The second song, “Over Before it Began” sounds even more like a TBS song with its powerful and anthemic chorus where Nolan sings confidently, “I’ll make it clever, make it count/But when I say the words out loud/I know it’s over/It’s over before it begins.” Taking Back Sunday comparisons aside, the overall songwriting depth and improvements to Nolan’s repertoire are nothing short of remarkable. You can honestly feel the raw emotion of the guitar solo at the end of the track that shrieks and wails, only to make way for Nolan to bring the song home for the listener.
“Half a Block to Go” finds Nolan a bit more subdued than the first two tracks, yet he continues to build upon his singer-songwriter vibes to make for a driving track that quickly pulsates through the speakers. Being the second shortest song on the record, Nolan takes full advantage of the brevity of the song by sticking straight to the hooks that he has been known for in each of his projects.
The piano backing of songs like “Smiling and Alive” all come across as an artist who feels like he can do just about anything he wants in the studio. The trust and collaboration he shows with Sapone pays major dividends as he delivers on a track filled with heartbreaking moments, and highly visual lyrics such as, “Our feet hit sand, the moonlight hits the water we run as fast as we can/Ready to embrace the ocean like our oldest friend/We dive deep beneath the surface into the cool black beneath/Rising and falling with the waves, swimming ecstatic and free.” The eclectic mix of types of songs is refreshing from an artist such as Nolan, whom we know can produce track after solid track on any given record.
Other subdued themes found on songs like “Outside of this Tragedy” only add to depth found on this LP that warrants multiple repeat listens. It’s on these “deeper dives” on the record that I discovered even more intricate time signatures and unique moments found in the songwriting of Nolan. For example, “How Much Difference Does it Make?” uses every drop of emotion with a few haunting notes of the piano, only to break away to the beautifully and carefully placed guitar work of Nolan. The song picks up some serious momentum at the mid-way point with some cool gang vocals and unique beats that bring Nolan’s complete artistic vision into focus.
The penultimate track, “Anything You Want” is an excellent slab of punk rock with an aftertaste of meaningful lyrics backing it. It reminded me a bit of the solo work of Frank Iero (My Chemical Romance) but with a bit more of the TBS-flavor of aggression.
The closing track, “Without You/Nothing is Over” closes out this memorable chapter of Nolan’s solo work with some earnest piano playing in the introduction. I was hoping for a bit more of a dramatic crescendo at the end of the track for closure on the up and down moments of this great record; however, it never came. Instead, the haunting final track serves as a reminder that Nolan is in precise control of his vision on his projects, naysayers be damned. In the end, John Nolan and producer Mike Sapone have given us an album that is both cohesive and pleasing to the ears from start to finish. In today’s scene, that’s quite admirable.