Straylight Run has always frustrated me. Ever since hearing those 6 self-released demos in 2003, I have been waiting and waiting for this band to awe me, to release a great record. But 2004’s self-titled release, which had a handful of great songs, was too produced and unfocused, while 2005’s EP “Prepare To Be Wrong” was a step in the right direction, but too short to have any lasting impact on me. But with their second full-length (and major label debut), Straylight Run have finally wowed me.
The Needles The Space displays the new musical direction Straylight Run have gone in. Instead of drowning their songs with piano-heavy melodies seen on past releases, they experiment and dive into using different instruments to create a fuller, richer sound than ever before. Produced by the band and engineered by Bryan Russell and Mike Sapone, Straylight Run achieves the sound they’ve been aiming at throughout their career. While some fans may complain about the production (similar to how many complained about the brilliant production on Thursday’s last release), it is the sound the band wanted, and if the tracks were produced anymore than what they are, I believe it lose the luster and impact each track possesses.
We are introduced to Needles with the delicate opening track “The Words We Say.” A steady drum beat and spacey vibe pace the track as the Nolan siblings harmonize beautifully throughout. “The Miracle That Never Came” is the first track on the album to feature Michelle on lead vocals. An upbeat track, Michelle’s strong vocals are back by brilliantly played horns. Shaun Cooper’s bass line is great, and the use of the glockenspiel is a nice touch.
The album really picks up with the foot-stomping first single, “Soon We’ll Be Living In The Future.” Will Noon’s drumming is the backbone of the track, as John Nolan’s vocals are full of life and force. “How Do I Fix My Head” really shows off how far musically Straylight Run has come since 2003. The gentle picking of the guitar, random electronic noises, and Noon’s steady drumming set the stage for the enthralling final minute and a half, where each instrument fuses together to create a euphoric ending that’ll leave you in awe.
“We’ll Never Leave Again” is the first real piano-driven track on the album. Each verse is delicately played by John, while the chorus is hard-hitting, incorporating beautiful backing vocals from Michelle and crashing cymbals from Noon. “Take It To Manhattan” is bound to be a fan favorite, as John’s vocals and lyrics are biting, referencing to a certain lead singer who likes to swing microphones around his neck. It sounds like a light-hearted ditty, complete with hand claps and group vocals, but underneath the song is fierce. “Still Alone” is reminiscent of The Format’s “Dog Problems,” and “Buttoned Down” is a simple folk song which showcases the beautiful harmonizing once again from the Nolans.
One of the cooler tracks is the instrumental “Track #12” which channels tribal drumming, more spacey electronic noises, and Michelle’s eerie wail in the background. This track leads up the closing act, “First Of The Century.” A quietly played guitar and John somberly singing begins the song, but it picks up as John just belts out the lyrics, the drumming kicks in, and the guitar pierces through all the way to the climatic end.
It’s amazing to see how far the band has come musically, to see the growth in their songwriting and composition is remarkable. The instrumentation is what stands out to me most, as a variety of instruments and noises are used to create a unique flow to the album. No longer will Straylight Run be compared to their peers within the scene, but rather with the likes of The Shins and others in the indie-pop spectrum. Upon first listen to The Needles The Space, you may dislike it, as this album will polarize many. But, this is the thinking man’s album, one you must listen to repeatedly as you’ll find something new within the album with each listen. I’ve been waiting for this moment for the past few years, and with The Needles The Space, the band has not only met their potential, but they’ve shattered all expectations. Soon we’ll be living in the future, and we’ll reflect onThe Needles The Space being Straylight Run’s career-defining album.