Like Un Mas Dos, I’ll try to keep this review short and sweet. Last year Straylight Run released The Needles the Space, a great album that rewarded repeat listeners and struck a fine balance between lead vocalists John Nolan and Michelle DaRosa. In the time since, Straylight Run were dropped from Universal Records and DaRosa left the band to pursuer her solo career. Rather than allowing these losses to accumulate in a complete breakdown of the band, John Nolan, bassist Shaun Cooper, and drummer Will Noon decided to return to their roots. The e-release Un Mas Dos is a brief three song set that recalls the band’s first online release and shines a light through the haze and into their future.
The disruptive squeal of electronic feedback begins the buildup of the first track on the EP, “Wait and Watch.” Both the soft piano of the verses and the sharp guitar of the choruses are overlaid by the cynical voice of John Nolan reprimanding those who find faith within a dismal society. This disbelief in faith and acceptance in despair is a theme that runs constant. “Wait and Watch” is the angriest song on the EP, but it’s also the weakest. This may sound a bit paradoxal, but the intensity feels somewhat empty. “Try” comes next, and it deserves repeat listens.
”Try” finds an individual at odds with a hostile world, but the cynical voice is set against poppier music that’s reminiscent of “Dignity and Money” from the band’s self-titled full length. Nolan’s lyrics here are the best of the EP, and it’s tough to resist singing along to his earnest and frustrated voice as the hook grabs hold: “I try to find a way just to say what I’m chasing, / Define what I’m making, believe what I’m saying, / To fill this space and feel like I belong.” Listen, rewind, repeat. Though it’s the pinnacle of Un Mas Dos, Nolan’s vocals on “Try,” as well as the other two songs, do not sound as refined as they could. Switching between this EP and the band’s previous material, I’m inclined to blame the production for keeping Nolan’s voice too far from the forefront – this is my chief criticism with the release. “Ten Ton Shoes” is the anchor of Un Mas Dos, and the band sticks to the message already familiar to the listener – the world will beat you down and eat you alive. Imagery includes tombstones, the bitter cold, and politicians who make hollow promises to save us from ourselves.
Judging from these song descriptions, Un Mas Dos sounds downright depressing. But Nolan’s voice doesn’t waver and fail as he sings – he’s more prone to urgent shouting. And the steady movements of the instruments, from piano to drums, do not show signs of letting up until it’s time for the next song. No, the word “upbeat” doesn’t come to mind when describing the tone, but “perseverance” does. It’s a fitting representation of reality, really. Straylight Run may have been close to the breaking point, but they endured. The world is unfeeling, the worst is here, but Straylight Run will continue working on “words, music, and melodies” as they prepare us for what’s to come.