Introspective and vibrant, The Wonder Years may have just topped their untouchable discography.
For me, The Wonder Years’ last two albums, The Greatest Generation and No Closer To Heaven, are both works which have firm slots among my top five albums ever written. It is fair to say that, since being shown the band’s Hostels & Brothels through my friend’s phone on what I can remember to be a drizzly Saturday afternoon, the band have been very important to me. I remember seeing them perform at London’s Scala in 2014, which is where I became an addict. For those of you that love music, its craft and feeling any sort of emotion when listening to it – The Wonder Years will change your life. Anyone who has read my reviews of the singles Sister Cities or Pyramids of Salt will recognise the passion I have for talking about the band. Being able to stream the album early from The Independent has been the best news since Christmas and with my tissues in hand, I was ready for their fifth studio album.
Raining in Kyoto is the opening track on the album. I was in the mindset that this album, because of its self-reflective nature, could take a slower, more introspective form. This song shattered that. It is absolutely huge, and I feel boasts moments from all of their releases. Energy from The Upsides, catchy hooks from Suburbia, delicate lyricism from The Greatest Generation and complete musicianship from No Closer To Heaven. For this reason, it is undoubtedly one of my favourites on the album. I feel as though it encompasses everything that the band stand for in one song and makes for a wonderful example of what this album has the capability to achieve. The pulse of the song is laid out within the first 10 seconds, it is unrelenting. After a series of quick lyrics, the vocals of Soupy and the drums of Mike Kennedy are combined with the layered guitars that the band are known for. The vocals escalate until there is nothing left to do but explode into a chorus of magnificent proportion. With lyrics such as “too much of a coward to visit your grave” it is clear to see that the band, and Soupy, in particular, have not strayed from their delicate and poised selves. The breakdown of the song builds a further dimension as it holds a fair amount of chunk which makes for an electric conclusion. This song is 6/5 Bytes for me.
Two of the opening four songs have been featured on WaveByte before as they were both released as singles. I have attached my reviews of Pyramids of Salt here: https://wavebyte.co.uk/2018/03/12/the-wonder-years-pyramids-of-salt/ and Sister Cities as well: https://wavebyte.co.uk/2018/02/09/the-wonder-years-sister-cities/. Both of these tracks, as I have explained before are exemplary singles, but I won’t bore you on my thoughts on these songs any further. Great tracks that work wonderfully at the opening of the album.
It Must Get Lonely is track three and has a swinging introduction. After a few bars of swanky guitars and drums which personify the spring, the vocals of Soupy explain how he is a “raw nerve in the sunlight, after two weeks in the dark”. Lyrics such as these, coupled with the title, do a phenomenal job of building the melancholic nature of the song. References to the Irish Sea and British streets reminded me exactly of how unique this album is – taking influence from different countries that the band have explored during the past two years on tour and the immense emotional toll that must have left on the band and their families. Introspective at every corner. After a while of gently jogging through the song and taking us through the chorus a couple of times, the song detonates into a full-blown sprint. The conclusion of this one is brought to us in a violent and strained manner through the vocals alone. It is quite a masterful listen, and without a doubt set to be a rout live.
Flowers Where Your Face Should Be immediately made me draw comparisons to the bands most recent release, an acoustic EP in the form of Burst and Decay. It is clear that the band have become comfortable with the quieter style, and it gives the album a completely different flavour. It is bold to choose this song as the 5th track, however, it is so delicate that it works near perfectly. However, for me, the real triumph is with the lyrics. Statements such as “There’s a man with his head in his hands on the pavement / His wife’s there behind him just off of the street / She scratches his back as he sobs on the asphalt / And what strikes me most is the symmetry / How they’re framed just like you and me” highlight how intricate each layer of the band is. Even down to the lyrics, Soupy possesses descriptive qualities that could overshadow a fair number of poets. With flashes of his higher range, the song is a different level of beautiful. If you, like me, enjoy words, what they stand for and what they can do to you emotionally, then this song is a must listen.
Heaven’s Gate (Sad and Sober) is up next. Understandably from the title, “sad and sober, Sunday afternoon” is the hook of the song and is visited in many different ways throughout it. The almost haunted sounding twinges of the guitars coupled with the strained vocals which feel set back on the track add for an eerie feel. It lets you know the band are alive and kicking after its gentler predecessor. My favourite part of the song, however, is a more sombre moment. The track comes to a close with the band cut away completely and with Soupy left to whimper until the song dies. The way the band crafts their layers is exemplary and this is only a further example of this. You have to hear this one.
Up next is another personal favourite from the album. We Look Like Lightning was the track that shocked me the most upon first listen, it opens with a synthesised drum beat before they are replaced by the real thing. There is a lovely distance felt in this song, encompassing the message of the track perfectly. The song threatens to explode on two occasions before we get a swanky riff. It makes you want to shimmy a little and once again features slightly haunting twinges from one of the three guitars offered by the band. Before long there is a second of respite and the song absolutely shatters into wailing vocals, guitars and smashing cymbals. It is experimental and thought-provoking, another fantastic song that I would thoroughly recommend.
The Ghosts of Right Now opens with a riff which is electric, however, the song repeatedly flirts with the idea of being absorbed by drum flurries. Before long, the inevitable happens and we are thrown into the deep end once more. The real triumph of this song is the long-held out notes in the post-chorus which give the band leverage to dance experimentally through their paces. The hook of the song sees Soupy reach the limits of his vocal capacity at points and refining it right down at others. It works wonderfully together, and this is a song you should listen to if you want to get into The Wonder Years. Like Raining in Kyoto, this one has moments that represent each of the band’s albums.
When The Blue Finally Came is cut from a similar piece of cloth as Flowers Where Your Face Should Be in terms of its dark, reflective and delicate nature. The song feels slightly atmospheric, its essence is brooding and, when listening, you can’t help but think about what may explode after it. The song addresses the cliff jumping escapades of the band when on tour in Sydney, another reminder of the depth of the album. Each and every track, with this one as a particular example, has a whole-worldliness about it. I cannot wait to examine the supporting photographs and literature for this one. What a complex track to get your head around.
The Orange Grove could have fallen straight from 2013’s The Greatest Generation. “The air as sweet as the marigolds” is one of my absolute favourite lyrics due to the way it blends senses so powerfully. The vocals are panicked and showcase what Soupy does best. The chorus is where the comparisons to the bands 2013 album really become evident. The dancing riffs that make up the musical qualities of the verses and the moment of silence, before harmonised vocals that take the song straight into the chorus follow The Wonder Years 2013 blueprint. Luckily for them, it is a magic one. The breakdown flirts with becoming softer, but that is quickly banished, and the track succumbs to an explosive conclusion.
The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me also begins in an atmospheric manner before a barrage of incredible lyricism. The images brought to your ears with lyrics such as “I said that I would start believing / If they made you well again / Guess they knew it was bullshit / Never hold up my end / All the walls are stained in your nicotine / I could feel closing in” are phenomenally powerful. The amalgamations of snare-hi-hat combinations, tiptoeing riffs and supporting piano make sure that the crescendo of the album is as wonderful as all the parts that have come before. The band always have written powerful album-ending tracks, but this could be one of the best yet. No one does emotion better than The Wonder Years. Wow.
Is it their best ever? The jury is out, but it certainly has potential to be. I feel as though with the artistic calibre of their work it would be unfair to rank it among its peers when I have given it less than twenty listens. What I must say, however, is that this album is one that cannot be ignored. With each of their albums, the band have taken huge leaps forwards, bending the boundaries of what would traditionally be expected of a Philadelphian pop-punk band. This album is nothing short of a masterpiece and when looking at the combined sum of its parts, they have managed to forge a completely fresh concept which puts other bands of a similar ilk to shame. I cannot wait to see the band in London next week. Long live The Wonder Years.