John Nolan | Height (Doghouse)

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cd_john-nolan.gifFrom the first song to the tenth, these are richly layered, deeply affecting numbers; listening, you often feel the confidante to a close friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used to be a Saddle Creek girl. And then all the regulars—Cursive, The Faint, Bright Eyes, Now It's Overhead—scattered, new blood was brought in, and, well, I didn't like said new blood. But now I'm happy to find myself a Doghouse girl. Starting with my love for The Honorary Title, I've found more than a handful of musical friends on the Doghouse Records roster, which has grown quite nicely.

Add to that list John Nolan, and his debut solo effort, Height. Perhaps the name doesn't yet sound familiar, but the pedigree will: Nolan was first the lead guitarist for Taking Back Sunday, then left to form Straylight Run. The songs on Height are more stripped down, quieter, true testaments to the reach of Nolan's songwriting. Still steeped in the indie rock vein, the music alternately meanders and hits home. From the first song to the tenth, these are richly layered, deeply affecting numbers; listening, you often feel the confidante to a close friend.

The album kicks off with "The End of the Beginning," an eddy of instruments and found sounds, followed by with the simple pleasure of "Til It's Done to Death." Next up is the hauntingly beautiful "It Takes a Long Time." Nolan delivers his lines in run-on fashion, offering such insights as, "Well, you made it home but I was left on the road/ to sing songs, drink hard/ to fight fatigue in the cold/ sleepwalking days just waiting/ ‘til the clock says it's time to let go." Toward the end, the textures pile atop one another and the song swells, encompassing itself in a wave of sound.

Nolan returns to the personal with the killer "Screaming Into the Wind." On this nonstop rush of a song, Nolan layers his vocals, creating the effect of multiple singers. "I Don't Believe You" is a simple, starry song of a man trying to spare a friend's feelings but ultimately unable to; programmed beats and soaring vocals deliver this gentle track. Following a by-the-books cover of Primitive Radio Gods' "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand," "Here I Am" is a softly swimming affirmation, swelling then sculling before soaring  at the end with Nolan proclaiming without question: "Here I am." "Keep Calm and Carry On," an upbeat indie offering, features with a cacophony, eclectic sounds—taps, keys, synths and more—with Nolan repeatedly asserting, "We keep calm and carry on/ it's all right."

Track nine, "I Won't Ever Be There," is a raw and personal song about faith—or the lack thereof. "Jesus comes to me in my dreams," Nolan sings, "he tells me that I still have a home/ he keeps talking about a place I can go/ where I'm always loved, always forgiven but I know/ I won't ever be there." The piano on this song is haunting, elegiac. As the album ends, you find Nolan revealing, "I want to tell you that I'm all right/ I might slow down or stop sometimes/ I'm just shaking it off/ I'm just telling myself not to let go."

Height is a rich album: instrumentally, sonically, lyrically, vocally. Truly, it's a can't-miss for fans of introspective indie rock. Once again, thanks to Doghouse for the great music. | Laura Hamlett

RIYL: Straylight Run, The Honorary Title, Kristoffer Ragnstam

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