One evening, I returned home from my mundane office job to find a postcard in my mailbox. I analyzed it and thought about it for an hour or two, employing the opinions of friends on what it could mean. It had a line drawing of a dog on the front and a simple message on the back: “I’m laying low / A stray dog in the street / You took me home / We’re sister cities”. I pulled back a post office label to find the logos for both Hopeless Records and Loneliest Place On Earth. The Wonder Years were back.
A day or two later, the band tweeted a link with an album title, release date, and single. Needless to say, their hype worked. I’ve been a huge fan of The Wonder Years for what seems like forever, and No Closer to Heaven came just when I needed it to when it released in 2014. Given my growing affection for the band, it was natural to highly anticipate what they’d do next.
Surprisingly, Sister Cities abandons much of what made The Wonder Years’ brand of pop punk so recognizable, while still managing to remain true to the band’s heart. The subtle changes are felt from the moment the album begins. The first track, “Raining in Kyoto”, is abrupt and not what I expected. I figured they’d put “Pyramids of Salt” (the second single) as the opener because of how they built up the energy. Instead, it’s track two.
In contrast to their previous releases, Sister Cities doesn’t seem to have a cohesive theme or sonic continuity. From what I understand, the album was written while the band was on tour and I think that’s the reason every track is a different experience, as well as lyrically alluding to visiting new places and seeing new things. Despite the missing aspect of “let’s get out of this town”, Sister Cities is still decidedly The Wonder Years.
I’m impressed with Dan Campbell’s vocal style on this album. I think his side project, Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties, has really helped him tap into the softer, more melodic side of his vocals rather than just the rough punk sound so associated with their past work. Musically, it’s about what we’ve grown accustomed to hearing from The Wonder Years: powerful, guitar-based punk with strong drums and soaring vocals.
Two stand-out tracks for me come right in the middle of the album. “Flowers Where Your Face Should Be” and “Heaven’s Gate (Sad and Sober)” show both sides of the band. The former is an example of growth – a song about love through the hard times that is stylistically different from anything the band has done before. It reminds me the most of Aaron West. The latter track, however, is classic Wonder Years. It feels the most like their past and is almost a reassurance to listeners, implying, “Hey, we’re artists who’ve grown, but we’re still the band you fell in love with”.
It’s obvious that The Wonder Years have grown a lot as a band over the years, and I think it’s a combination of both life experience and band experience. With Sister Cities, specifically, it’s obvious that their travels impacted their writing and opened up a new direction to pursue. I’m always a fan of band growth, and that’s something The Wonder Years really deal well with. They never change so much that they lose fans, but they change enough to keep things fresh.
That’s what Sister Cities is. It’s new and exciting and covers ground that Soupy and the guys have never walked on before, but it still feels familiar, from the first track right through to the end.
Sister Cities closes with an outstanding final track. The band always manages to tie up their albums perfectly and “The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me” is no exception. Just the title alone is beautiful, but the final lines are what really got me: “When the sutures start to split / I trust the current to pull you back in / I miss everyone at once / But most of all, I miss the ocean”. The ocean holds a special place in my heart, and after the (seemingly) endless winter we’ve had, I’m ready to go sit in the sand and reflect on some things.
The Wonder Years have always known exactly how to voice dealing with loss and grief and I think that’s why so many people are drawn to the art they create. There’s not a person on earth who won’t experience these feelings, if they haven’t already. Where No Closer to Heaven dealt with anger and blame, Sister Cities focuses on sorrow, feelings of abandonment, and how we eventually find the strength to move along. We always remember the things we’ve lost, but there’s a point where we find a way out and get back to the ocean. I think I’m at that point, personally, and The Wonder Years have simply come up alongside me to help with the healing.
by Nadia Paiva
Nadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.