Chris McCaughan is a member of long-time punkers the Lawrence Arms, but he also works as a solo artist under the name Sundowner. Neon Fiction marks his first release with Lawrence Arms’ label Fat Wreck, and it’s an overcast, wandering, bittersweet power-pop record. The jangling acoustic guitars in the background, the hardened sweetness of McCaughan’s intimate vocals, the echoing guitars and bass that drift around him, all create the mood of rainy late nights, of dive bars and back alleys, of a voice searching for something it might never find.
Standouts such as “Cemetery West” or the swaying “Paper Rose City” or the stomping crunch of “Life in the Embers” all tie a wanderlust and confusion down to a particular geography, rendering it all the more tense, even as McCaughan lilts out his quotidian successes and lingering defeats. It’s a record that doesn’t rely on pop-punk punch but still establishes its own patient energy. Some songs, like “My Beautiful Ruins” or “Poet of Trash”, drag out a bit longer than they need to, but overall Neon Fiction is a strong record and a smart step out on a limb for Fat Wreck. It may not sound like most of their records, but its quality isn’t in doubt.