Review: The Wonder Years—’Sister Cities’

Posted: by The Editor

The Wonder Years are exactly where they should be. Nearly a decade-and-a-half after the band started as a joke and unexpectedly took off, Sister Cities feels like a return to form in a greater sense. It’s clear that the band members themselves are fully behind this album and have been pulling no punches even after its roll-out. From sending out a mystery 7”; creating a global scavenger hunt before any official announcement to the 200+ page book full of photos, journals, and poetry; and  the way the band talk about it, it’s clear that this evolution was a necessary step to ensure real fulfillment. It’s so important to express this because the pop-punk genre has some of the most passionate fans, but comes with major restraints in a way that’s often hard for bands to break out of. With Sister Cities, The Wonder Years have successfully subverted expectations, kept the core of what the band has always been, and allowed who they truly are to come through even more.

Many of the best records find a way to define themselves within the first three tracks, establishing the various sounds that will then be further explored. With “Raining in Kyoto,” “Pyramids of Salt,” and “It Must Get Lonely,” The Wonder Years do just that. The aggressive introduction gives way to a slower, subdued song that draws the listener in emotionally before transitioning into a melodic mid-tempo track. The characteristics of these songs continue to be built upon, rearranged, and evolved as the album progresses. This addresses one of the major issues fans point out with the band’s previous record, No Closer to Heaven, which is that each song tended to follow a somewhat formulaic “quiet, loud, quiet” equation. There is a greater variety within Sister Cities that allows for more room to breathe and be surprised by the journey it takes you on. The music only benefits more from a greater sonic clarity compared to the noticeable muddiness present in No Closer to Heaven, which makes it feel like a completion of the process that record started.

The sound of Sister Cities is hard to define. While it is impossible for a band to completely abandon their roots, no track would be able to be objectively labeled pop-punk. As music in general becomes more and more nebulous, it would be a challenge to imagine what genre this would be labeled if it were a band’s debut. And that’s okay. It’s satisfying to see a group with three guitarists further experiment with the intricate layers such a lineup allows for. Listening closely to “Flowers Where Your Face Should Be” and hearing the interplay between them in a song that, on the surface level, sounds very simple, is exciting. “We Look Like Lightning” switches back and forth between minimalistic and a dense walls of sound, again bringing together unpredictable instrumental relationships.

While The Wonder Years have become something entirely new, that does not mean that they’ve forgotten their past. A staple of the band’s music has always been Michael Kennedy’s superb drumming, which is no less impressive this time around. Kennedy is able to drive the music forward, expand it outward, and knows exactly when to hang back, something many find especially hard. The lyrics are still filled with vocalist Daniel Campbell’s signature references to previous work. “Raining in Kyoto” is a direct continuation of The Greatest Generation’s “Dismantling Summer”. Similar comparisons can be made between “Flowers Where Your Face Should Be” and No Closer to Heaven’s “You In January”. Campbell’s sentiments are still deeply personal, chronicling the time between albums with transparent, passionate delivery just like they always have. This time they come across as even more poetic with lines such as “Like a suit that’s been to too many funerals / and starts fraying at the seams,” or the closer’s chorus, “When I was in shambles / when I got too weak / the ocean grew hands to hold me,” conveying specific imagery while remaining open for interpretation.

Sister Cities contains some of the best performances and moments from a band that’s toeing the line between experience and progress. For longtime fans of the band, this is another opportunity to grow alongside them. For those who have avoided the band due to their pop-punk origins, this is a perfect place to hop on experience them for what they’ve become.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Scott Fugger | @Scoober1013

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