Album Reviews

John Nolan Abendigo Punk Rock Theory
Tuesday, November 13, 2018 - 21:24
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-by Nathaniel FitzGerald

There are few people whose romantic life had a larger footprint in the early 2000s emo scene as John Nolan. He founded Taking Back Sunday with his good friend Jess Lacey, who played bass. The two had a falling out over a shared love interest, and Lacey left to start Brand New. The two groups spent a few albums sending emo diss tracks back and forth to one another, creating some of the most venomous couplets in the whole scene.

According to legend, further girl drama between John and TBS frontman Adam Lazzara led Nolan to leave Taking Back Sunday and start Straylight Run with his sister (at the time, the rumor was that Lazzara had dated John's sister, and things didn't end well, but I'm unable to find verification now). While the Brand New/Taking Back Sunday feud was the stuff of legends, Straylight Run was often treated like a hard-to-follow side plot. Some fans still say that Straylight Run was the best of the three bands, but they nevertheless got the short end of publicity and popularity.

But now, fifteen years after the height of all that drama, John Nolan is back in Taking Back Sunday, and he's released Abendigo, his third solo album. One could read his return to TBS as a mark of a more mature man, and that maturity is certainly apparent on this record.

Looking at his pedigree, you'd expect that this record to filled with clever turns-of-phrase, catchy melodies, and emo passion. And Abendigo certainly delivers on that front, but it gives so much more. 

This is a sonically rich album. Most of the tracks exist in a thick wash of ambient electronics. Synths and drum machines swirl around acoustic guitars, heavily-effected grand pianos, and strings. Its best moments are a beautiful hybrid of emo and atmospheric pop, hitting a lot of the same buttons as Lorde and Lana Del Ray (read: that's a good thing). Songs like "Do You Remember?" and "How Much Difference Does It Make?" are beautiful, cinematic (for lack of a better term) power ballads.

There are a few moments that find Nolan flexing his punk muscles, but with mixed results. "Over Before It Begins" is just as cathartically anthemic as anything he's done with either Taking Back Sunday or Starlight Run. "Half a Block to Go" starts with an acoustic guitar before launching into a driving punk ballad that sounds like someone just forgot to put it on Where You Want to Be. But then there's "Anything You Want," a rauccous track where Nolan abandons his trademark croon for a garage rock mumble. Its a jarring and abrasive inclusion, especially considering its place in the track list.

But excepting that one track, Abendigo is a beautifully melodic and atmospherically lush record from an emo legend that isn't content to ride the coattails of his legacy. It leans into new musical spaces while still doing a lot of what he's great at.

Track listing:

  1. Do You Remember?
  2. Over Before It Begins
  3. Half A Block To Go
  4. Smiling And Alive
  5. Outside Of This Tragedy
  6. How Much Difference Does It Make?
  7. Anything You Want
  8. Without You/Nothing Is Over