Since The Wonder Years released their second record ‘The Upsides’ back in 2010, the band have been on a steadily increasing upwards trajectory. The band’s relatable lyrics and undeniably infectious brand of pop-punk meant that their worldwide fan base grew frantically at a rapid pace.
Fast forward to 2015; the band released the critically acclaimed ‘No Closer To Heaven’, which cemented The Wonder Years as one of the most exciting bands around right now and the pinnacle of pop-punk.
Three years later, and the band are gearing up to release their most anticipated record yet in ‘Sister Cities’. They’ve described the release as a collection of songs written while touring the world during the hardest year of their life and, after listening to the record, that certainly becomes apparent.
Opener ‘Raining In Kyoto’ is a mammoth anthem that channels a more aggressive but just as cathartic sound for the band. Vocalist Dan Campbell has never sounded so frustrated and angry before as he shouts at the top of his lungs throughout most of the song. If this isn’t the opening track to the band’s forthcoming tour, then they’ve missed a trick. The instrumental break before the last chorus is intense to say the least.
The synthesised instrumentation during the verses of ‘Pyramids Of Salt’ and its disjointed drum rhythms show a sonically mature sound that has obviously been nurtured from time in the studio. The lyrics are almost poetic and are a complete opposite to Campbell‘s usual straightforward and personable style of writing. “There’s a bird inside your ribcage / He screams so I never forget / I wanna break open your sternum / I wanna rip him from his nest”, he wallows. There’s a real sense of lyrical maturity here that began to shine through on their earlier records, but now it takes centre stage.
‘It Must Get Lonely’ has an Americana/indie rock vibe to it, and is by far the most accessible and mainstream track the band has ever written. It’s arguably the most positive that the band have ever sounded musically, but in contrast it’s lyrically sombre and bleak. Moving straight from the almost country vibe, the record’s titular track follows up as one of the only songs here that could be reminiscent of the band’s pop-punk roots.
‘Flowers Where Your Face Should Be’ and ‘We Look Like Lightning’ demonstrate a softer side to The Wonder Years, and demonstrate the band’s ability to grow and adapt, although the latter of the two takes a turn for the heavier towards its raucous ending. These songs are a perfect example of Campbell being the most vulnerable and exposed songwriter for a generation, while his vocal capability is equally captivating and heart breaking. Though he’s trodden the line of imperfect pop-punk vocals, the step up here is astonishing.
While ‘Sister Cities’ isn’t a complete departure from the band’s previous work, it’s definitely their most accomplished and progressive body of work to date. It feels like a culmination of everything that has lead up to this point, and then some; the musicianship is astounding, and the whole body of work is refined.
Considering this is the band’s sixth full-length, it sounds like the beginning of a new dawn for the band. This might not be The Wonder Years as you know them, but it’s The Wonder Years as you should know them. This is the band they were always supposed to be, it just took them a little while to get there.