Review: The Wonder Years – Sister Cities

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.

You can buy Sister Cities on Apple Music.

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.

4.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia 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.

Most Anticipated of 2017: #3 The Wonder Years Come Out Swinging…Again

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It’s impossible not to be excited for a new release from The Wonder Years. The band has written some truly magical music unlike anything else in the genre. When they announced on Twitter just before the new year that they were getting busy writing a record, they accidentally bumped off a few contenders for this list (sorry, Saves the Day and Hellogoodbye).

Around this time seven years ago, The Wonder Years seemed to appear out of nowhere and take over the punk scene by storm. Since then, they’ve not only released music regularly, but they’ve managed to up their own ante each time, growing as into one of the strongest and most respected bands out there.

I don’t need to know what direction they’re going this time, nor do I care. Each experiment they’ve touched has paid off, and each theme becomes deeper and more structured. I just can’t wait to see what else they’ve come up with.

Additionally, it’s about time for a new Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties release. Last year’s Bittersweet EP was a fantastic taste of what’s to come and gave some insight into what has happened in West’s life since we last saw him on We Don’t Have Each Other. It’s been three years since that album, and if West’s acoustic tour last year was anything to go by, there is a frantic fan base waiting for the next real chapter.

It’s only been a year and a half since the release of No Closer to Heaven, and they’re already gearing up for their next record. The dedication and groundwork The Wonder Years team show toward their craft is why they’re so beloved. That they have enough inspiration to work so tirelessly is enough reason to anticipate anything they’re preparing for.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

The Wonder Years Stream “Stained Glass Ceilings” Music Video

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It’s hard to believe that six months have passed since The Wonder Years released No Closer to Heaven, their stellar fourth full-length album. To honor the occasion, the band has released the music video for one of the strongest tracks on the record: “Stained Glass Ceilings”, featuring Jason Aalon Butler of letlive. Take a look at the sweet new video below:

If you like what you hear, you can but No Closer to Heaven on iTunes.

Did you like the video? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: The Wonder Years – No Closer to Heaven

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Pop punk is an inherently self-centered genre. Historically, the music has immersed itself in the most banal of subject matter, sometimes ironically, but most often earnestly. This sort of self-absorption is welcome in small doses, but as the years pass, it’s proper to yearn for something more.

The Wonder Years have served as the flagship band for a new, much more existentially reflective brand of pop punk that has risen to popularity in recent years. Their three-album arc of The Upsides (2010), Suburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing (2011) and The Greatest Generation (2013) told the story of coming to terms with self in early adulthood and finding one’s place in a world of confusion.

You can buy No Closer to Heaven on iTunes.

You can buy No Closer to Heaven on iTunes.

Those themes struck a chord with a substantial audience that shared in the experience, giving way to a new community of pop punk faithful. Nevertheless, ideas of hazy-eyed post-suburban reflection still live within a sheltered bubble that offers a convenient protection from greater trials and injustices that plague the world around us. Maybe that journey was necessary for us all to arrive at this point alongside the band.

No Closer to Heaven is the most challenging and important work that The Wonder Years have created. Yes, the band expands another step further in their progression towards gritty pop punk bliss, but the real story here is the band’s decision to turn away from the mirror and set their eyes upon the world around them.

The band’s sobering collective opening refrain of “We’re no saviors if we can’t save our brothers” sets the tone for a completely new path. Indeed, not only does the idea permeate the entirety of the record, the line itself is repeated at moments throughout. Who are our brothers? Vocalist Dan “Soupy” Campbell spins his personal experiences into nebulous stories that could apply to almost anyone, but at their most basic level, these are accounts of the fellow humans around us.

In surprising fashion, Campbell tackles subjects like class, violence and the need for social reform with as much grace as ever. These songs never feel disingenuous – instead it feels like a logical transition for someone ready to acknowledge the pain around them. On “I Don’t Like Who I Was Then”, Campbell belts a chorus of resolve, singing, “I think I’m growing into someone you could trust / I want to shoulder the weight until my back breaks / I want to run until my lungs give up”.

On a few tracks, Campbell becomes reflective on larger issues after pondering simple events – the death of a bird on “Cardinals” or a lift from a friend on “Thanks for the Ride”. At other times, he goes straight for the jugular without apology. No song captures this better than “Stained Glass Ceilings”, a powerful track with Jason Butler of letlive. about the societal evils that keep cycles of racial hate and violence alive.

“John Wayne with a god complex tells me to buy a gun / Like shooting a teenage kid is gonna solve any problems”, Campbell seethes before Butler adds, “It’s black or white and sometimes black and blue / It’s something we’re all born into”. These moments are a far cry from the confines of suburban existential crisis that have been the hallmark of The Wonder Years’ career. On “I Wanted So Badly to be Brave”, Campbell declares solidarity with a victimized friend: “You weren’t born my brother, but you’re gonna die that way”.

For all of the band’s newly focused determination, no song captures it as well as “Cigarettes & Saints”, a painful lament about a friend lost to drugs. By the time the song builds to it’s manic conclusion, capped with Soupy’s cry of, “We put our faith in you – you turned a profit”, the track has become much more than a critique of the pharmaceutical companies that play a role in such tragedies. It’s a raging anthem against corrupt systems of all kinds.

From a strictly sonic standpoint, No Closer to Heaven has The Wonder Years’ signature all over it, with a few new tricks thrown in for good measure. An ample soundtrack to the record’s theme, the band adds subtle touches to round out the songs. Delicate keyboards on “You in January” highlight a blissful track, while the sharp opening riff on “Palm Reader” adds an extra edge to the song.

There aren’t “fast songs” and “slow songs” on No Closer to Heaven as much is there is a constant movement, with each tempo change highlighting the song’s purpose. The Greatest Generation was chock full of instantly classic melodies that walked hand-in-hand with the weighty subject matter. The melodies on this record aren’t as instantly obvious, but with each listen, the notes make more and more sense within the context of the song. This is the sound of a maturing band.

On “A Song for Ernest Hemmingway”, Campbell contemplates the author’s experience of reading of his own death in the morning newspaper, singing, “I bet it was freeing to know / When you destroy everything worth chasing / There’s nowhere left to go”. If the devil in Soupy’s bloodstream still exists, he’s fighting like hell to not let its grasp shape his ability to take another step forward.

Campbell claims to not believe in heaven. He also admits to taking joy in imagining its existence as a place of peace for those that have none on this earth. No Closer to Heaven acknowledges how far we are from having that place of peace, but longs for its existence. Asking questions about how in the hell we get there is the only logical starting place. The Wonder Years are doing just that.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

The Wonder Years Acoustic Tour – Chicago

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“If I can manage not to fuck this up…”

With a new record coming out this week, the claustrophobic aisles of Chicago’s Shuga Records were filled tight with two hundred fans hoping to catch a glimpse of The Wonder Years play an acoustic set. The current tour is simple, short and a thank you to their most passionate fans, who lined up for hours (allegedly) in front of the record store for the best view. Even outside of their loud, energetic element, the band has a hell of a presence that follows them wherever they go.

Their set was a short, quick burst of six songs. At first, hearing as gossip that there were going to be so few songs while waiting in line to enter felt like a disappointment, but it’s all that is required to not only satisfy any fan, but set the mood for a theme. The band, sitting and lower in tone than the normal shouting, really made this set feel like something special and secretive.

Starting off with “Cardinals” and ending with “Cigarettes and Saints” off of their new album, No Closer to Heaven, the repeated theme of “If we can’t save our brothers, we’re no saviors” encapsulated the set. It wasn’t until the final moments of the show that it really hit me – like most everything the band does, they tried to not only tie the set up together with reoccurring elements, but relate them to their older songs, like “Local Man Ruins Everything”. It’s a brilliant way to set the mood for what’s to come, and give new meaning to the songs we already love.

It’s odd to see fans learning the words to new songs. During “Cardinals”, the room was decisively quiet until older favorites like,“Passing Through a Screen Door” began and lured the crowd into shouting the lyrics back at the stage as Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell closed his eyes and let us sing to him before breaking back into the next verse.

However, the breakout song from the new record is almost definitively “Cigarettes and Saints”, a crooning ballad turned raging rocker that gives the band a much needed slow down during their high octane sets. Even after the band’s biggest singles, this new song is the one that caught the most passion as the crowd roared every word. During the final verse, Soupy stood for the first time and raged into the mic, screaming repeatedly, “You can’t have my friends, You can’t have my brothers” and looking like he was almost on the verge of tears. It was incredible to see the fire of a loud electric set fit perfectly into the confines of the acoustic sound, making the final shouts all the more powerful. If the reaction from the band and the fans in attendance is any indication, “Cigarettes and Saints” is the definitive song from this newest release.

Patient onlookers were lucky enough to get autographs and photos afterwards. The meetings were brief, which is perfect in order to not make an ass out of yourself, which I am generally known to do. The band members were fun, cheerful and joking with everyone in front of them and tried to make sure everyone left feeling great.

No Closer to Heaven comes out Friday. If you can, get a copy of it. When you find a group of people who put as much passion as they can into their music and work as The Wonder Years do, it’s worth every cent to make sure they can do it again for the fans that love them.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and was able to walk to the show. Hooray, convenience! Also, apparently the band likes Hellogoodbye, as three of them, including Soupy, stopped what they were doing to let me know.

Watch The Wonder Years’ New Music Video for “Cardinals”

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After the announcement of their new album No Closer to Heaven, The Wonder Years have released the first single from the record in the form of a music video. “Cardinals” finds the band as aggressive sounding as ever on this explosive track. You can watch the video below:

If you like what you hear, you can preorder No Closer to Heaven, which is due out on September 4 via Hopeless Records. When you preorder, the band will donate to one of four different charities.

What are your thoughts on the new song? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Wonder Years to Release “No Closer to Heaven” on September 4

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It’s official! Pop punk outfit The Wonder Years have announced via Instagram that they will release their fourth full length album titled No Closer to Heaven on September 4 via Hopeless Records. The album is a follow-up to 2013’s lauded release, The Greatest Generation. Check out the album artwork and track listing below:

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 12.12.09 PMTrack listing:

01. Brothers &
02. Cardinals
03. A Song for Patsy Cline
04. I Don’t Like Who I Was Then
05. Cigarettes & Saints
06. The Bluest Things on Earth
07. A Song for Ernest Hemingway
08. Thanks for the Ride
09. Stained Glass Ceilings (feat. Jason Aalon Butler)
10. I Wanted So Badly to be Brave
11. You in January
12. Palm Reader
13. No Closer to Heaven

A new single will be released tonight at midnight, along with pre-order options for the album. The band is currently spending their summer on the Vans Warped Tour. Share your excitement for the new album in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck