Review: William Ryan Key – Thirteen

After the soaring choruses and melodic punk of nearly two decades in Yellowcard, it’s almost a shock to the system to hear William Ryan Key mellowed out. Some of the best Yellowcard songs were the often-overlooked acoustic ballads, and it can cause an undeserved sense of expectation when listening to Key’s new EP, Thirteen for the first time. Scaled back to its simplest form, Key’s work is dipped so far into a folk sound that it can be hard to recognize him. But the stories and pictures he paints are still some of the absolute best in music.

You can buy Thirteen on Apple Music.

Over the five songs on Thirteen, Key takes his time with simple melodies. “Old Friends” features a simple strum and spaced out notes that subtly pick up pace during the chorus. “Vultures” and “Form and Figure” are a bit faster paced, but still rely on a simple melody to carry the songs. Taking a note from Ace Enders, there is a synth line that haunts the background of several songs to give them an added sense of weight that emphasizes the guitar. It’s a soothing way to give the songs atmosphere and depth.

Additionally, Key’s vocals are scaled back significantly. Instead of pushing himself for a raging chorus, his voice is so quiet it can be almost monotonous. For someone who has such a wide range, songs like “Thirty Days” seem hampered because it sounds like he is trying too hard to hold himself back. It keeps the songs folky, but not without sounding at least partially forced.

However, the storytelling and themes are utterly incredible. “Old Friends” is a story about life on the road, and learning how to deal with your friends back home while dealing with the ambition of being in a rock band. “Went searching for the Hollywood sound and my old friends were cursing my name / I thought if I could burn out the sun, everyone would be with me in the shade / Wrong as I was, I wouldn’t change”.

“Form and Figure” deals with the aftermath of a failed relationship (“I stay in a sleepless state all the time / blurry lines / with the dawn about to light”). “Thirty Days” is a song that equally works as a love song and as a description of having found help after addiction. The somber tone of Key’s voice as he sings, “I’ve hung a heroes cape and worn a villain’s face / Is it my reflection on the wall? / Do I even look the same at all? / If you see me, I swear you won’t believe these years have worn on me” brims with both regret and hope in equal measure.

While it is a new direction for Key, Thirteen sounds like it has been written before. At 18-minutes long, these songs struggle to differentiate themselves from each other. After the flush and extravagant writing of Key’s vast body of work, Thirteen feels underdeveloped, even if that was the intention. However, it still points towards the next amazing step in his career.

3/5

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 frequently is criticized for his posture. Whip him with a wooden ruler upon sight, if you could be so kind.

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Ryan Key to Record New Music in 2018

Last year’s disbanding of legendary pop punk act Yellowcard wasn’t easy on anyone, but fortunately, it won’t be long before we hear the voice of Ryan Key again. The former Yellowcard vocalist will be hitting the road this spring with New Found Glory, Bayside and The Movielife.

According to a recent tweet from Key, he’ll be heading into the studio soon to record new songs that will be played on the tour, in addition to some classic Yellowcard tracks. Take a look at the tweet below:

You can currently purchase tickets on New Found Glory’s website. What do you expect from Ryan Key’s new music? Let us know your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: The Best of Yellowcard

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As the pop punk world mourns the the loss of Yellowcard, Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz take a look back at the band’s incredible career. The two discuss the Yellowcard’s recent self-titled release and break down the band’s extensive back catalogue, discussing their favorite albums and songs. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What is your favorite Yellowcard album? Share your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Yellowcard -Yellowcard

yellowcard-2016

Saying goodbye is never an easy task, but knowing that the end is coming makes the blow a bit softer. Such is the case with Yellowcard, the final album by one of the penultimate bands of pop punk. Yellowcard have ended their career with an album that feels like an accumulation of everything they have done up to this point. If there was a way to go out in style, Yellowcard seized the opportunity and ran with it.

You can pre-order Yellowcard on iTunes.

You can pre-order Yellowcard on iTunes.

It’s hard to describe Yellowcard, as each song sounds reminiscent of each album in the band’s career up to this point, finding a sublime balance between Southern Air and Lift a Sail. The songs are poppier, but have the edge of an alternative record. It’s clearly in the vein of the band’s most recent work with hints to earlier material, but each song is uniquely Yellowcard.

“Rest in Peace” is as distinct a Yellowcard song as “Ocean Avenue” ever was, with a bouncing guitar riff and whimsical violin taking the spotlight. Whereas “Got Yours” is much more of a faster song in the vein of more recent All Time Low albums. Being their final album, the band also tackles slower songs, such as “Leave a Light On”, a piano ballad tingling with a haunting guitar line. After 15 years, Yellowcard is an experience that keeps you guessing until the very end where past albums stayed on key and theme.

“What Appears” is a harder riffing rock song that sounds like it should have been on Lift a Sail and features a furious violin melody throughout. “The Hurt is Gone” keeps the drumming at a solid pace while the guitars bounce from short, simple strums and the bass keeps the song full. “Fields & Fences” might be the most fitting finale to a band’s career I’ve ever heard. At seven minutes long, it houses the single softest moment’s of Yellowcard’s career, bursts into a stupendous electric bridge, and fades on the wind of Mackin’s violin.

The biggest detriments to the album are a distinct lack of Sean Mackin’s violin taking center stage with exception to the “Rest in Peace” and “A Place We Set Afire”. Instead, Mackin finds a sweet spot in the rhythm section, allowing the guitarwork of Ryan Mendez and Ryan Key to take the spotlight. Although the drumming for Yellowcard is wonderful, it lacks the flair that Longineu Parsons III brought to past albums. Josh Portman’s bass provides a loving melody to the songwork and boosts the framework of the songs throughout.

Fittingly, the theme of the album is saying goodbye. Each song finds a new way to give the message without sounding contrite or repetitive. Lead track “Rest in Peace” is an overall eulogy to the band and reflects on ending after finding their second wind as Key sings, “It was the best that you could be for me / I think we were lucky just to stay alive / Even when you had only fire to breathe / I know you were only trying to make it right / Change everything I’ve ever known / Try once again to let you go”.

“Fields & Fences” sounds like a eulogy of the band making a such a strong comeback after their hiatus and finding understanding in the scheme of things under the brush of eclectic guitar. “I got used to being the star of the show / But I’ve seen the lights come and go / I heard a song playing brought by the wind / I got myself lost and I found you again”.

“A Place We Set Afire” perhaps contains the most direct thesis for why Yellowcard are calling it quits after so long, as Key sings, “We don’t have to say goodbye / But we can’t get lost in time / I’ll be yours and you’ll be mine / Maybe in another life”.

Yellowcard sounds like an ending. It’s a cap to a band that gave their all with each release and every show. Anyone who enjoyed Yellowcard at any point in their vast career will find a song to love, and anyone who enjoyed the band’s entire discography will love the album. It’s not their best or most cohesive work, but it’s not meant to be. Yellowcard is the sum of everything up to this point, collecting the best bits and experimenting with others.

I always tend to assume that the last song on an album is the last I will hear from a band, and in this instance, it’s a correct assumption. “Fields & Fences” ends on an honest note that sums up the parts of Yellowcard as a band before a 90 second violin solo with a simple sentiment: “I don’t have much to give to you / But I know I love the way you make me feel like I’m at home / And I am not alone”.

4.5/5

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 rediscovered Yellowcard after their hiatus. Godspeed, you lovely California kids.

 

Yellowcard Says Goodbye

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In a way, it’s fitting that Yellowcard would announce their farewell on the first week of summer – forever a band that epitomized the joy and wonder of the season. With the release of a self-titled album on September 30, followed by one last tour, Yellowcard will sail away into the night, leaving a large hole in the heart of the pop punk scene.

You can pre-order Yellowcard on iTunes.

You can pre-order Yellowcard on iTunes.

Like so many of Yellowcard’s followers, I was introduced to the band in 2003 when a friend purchased Ocean Avenue for me; a gift I’ll forever be thankful for. That album, an aching reminder of a past left behind, carried me through the early years of my college experience as I left home and started a new life. But it didn’t stop there – for over a decade, the band has offered a soundtrack to my own personal journey.

That’s what makes this goodbye so hard to swallow. Since their career took off, Yellowcard hasn’t released a “bad” album (we can argue about Lights and Sounds another time). In fact, each one spoke to a unique stage of life. Paper Walls dealt with friendships fractured by time, When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes pondered the confusion of youth from afar, Southern Air stressed the importance of finding home, and Lift a Sail told a story of hope amidst pain. It stands to reason that the upcoming Yellowcard will serve as a fitting bookend.

Aside from their overall proficiency, Yellowcard also served as a unifying voice within the pop punk scene – a band so unique and so driven that it pushed everyone around them to greater heights. The band’s first hiatus in 2008 felt like a gut punch, leaving a mark that never quite left until the band’s celebrated return in 2011. Sean Mackin’s violin intro to “For You, and Your Denial”, the first single upon the band’s reappearance, felt like the freshest breath of air imaginable and reignited a scene that was ready to explode again.

So here we are, with one last summer to soak it all in. Yellowcard will spend the season on the Vans Warped Tour, giving us all one last dose of pop punk sunshine before the official farewell commences. Yet even as we sing along under the oppressive heat in parking lots, open fields and amphitheaters across the country this summer, we’ll know that although the band may leave, the music stays. This won’t be the last time that Ocean Avenue graces my car speakers during a road trip or serves as the soundtrack to a late summer night with best friends. Not by a long shot.

Read the band’s farewell and pre-order Yellowcard here.

Farewell Tour Dates:

Oct. 6 San Antonio, TX The Aztec Theater
Oct. 7 Austin, TX Scoot Inn
Oct. 8 Dallas, TX Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill
Oct. 9 Houston, TX House of Blues
Oct. 11 Albuquerque, NM Sunshine Theater
Oct. 12 Tempe, AZ The Marquee Theatre
Oct. 14 Las Vegas, NV Brooklyn Bowl
Oct. 15 Santa Ana, CA The Observatory
Oct. 16 San Diego, CA House of Blues
Oct. 18 Los Angeles, CA The NOVO
Oct. 19 Ventura, CA Majestic Ventura Theater
Oct. 21 Santa Cruz, CA The Catalyst
Oct. 22 San Francisco, CA The Regency Ballroom
Oct. 23 Sacramento, CA Ace of Spades
Oct. 25 Portland, OR Roseland Theater
Oct. 26 Seattle, WA The Showbox
Oct. 28 Salt Lake City, UT The Complex
Oct. 29 Denver, CO Summit Music Hall
Oct. 31 Minneapolis, MN Mill City Nights
Nov. 2 Milwaukee, WI The Rave
Nov. 3 Chicago, IL House of Blues
Nov. 4 Chicago, IL House of Blues
Nov. 5 Detroit, MI The Fillmore Detroit
Nov. 7 Boston, MA House of Blues
Nov. 9 New York, NY PlayStation Theater
Nov. 11 Huntington, NY The Paramount
Nov. 12 Philadelphia, PA Electric Factory
Nov. 13 Sayreville, NJ Starland Ballroom
Nov. 15 Baltimore, MD Baltimore Soundstage
Nov. 17 Charlotte, NC The Fillmore Charlotte
Nov. 18 Jacksonville, FL Mavericks at The Landing
Nov. 19 Atlanta, GA The Masquerade – Heaven Stage
Nov. 20 Ft. Lauderdale, FL Revolution Live
Nov. 22 Lake Buena Vista, FL House of Blues

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.

Pop Punk Legends Yellowcard and New Found Glory Rock Concord Music Hall

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A New Found Glory show can only be measured in one way: how drenched in sweat you are when it’s over. If you’re dry, you never cared for their music in the first place.

There’s an energy in the air the entire show, no matter who goes on before, or even after. It’s one of the reasons that their legacy and career has endured the rise, fall and rebirth of pop punk. It’s something that seems to emit from the bands that grew from the early 2000’s, and one that only another band from that era can replicate.

Yellowcard is one of those bands, and one of the most engaging. After almost two decades, the kids who grew up on these bands have refused to give up on them; a full house at the Concord Music Hall in Chicago consisted of everyone between the ages of 18 and 35 ready to open a circle pit.  As Yellowcard’s Ryan Key himself said, “If we had done this same tour in 2003, it would have been magical. But it’s 2015, and you’re still here.”

It was the first time Yellowcard and New Found Glory have toured North America together in their careers. If the first of their two night stay in Chicago was any indication, fans have been waiting a long time for this team up. Before opening band Tigers Jaw even took the stage, the room was packed. The sleek interior of the theater spaced people out nicely while filling the center, the entire eclipsing balcony full of onlookers. When Tigers Jaw finally emerged, they had a nearly full house.

Tigers Jaw mesmerized the room, jamming to a somber indie sounding version of pop punk. Dual vocalists, Brianna Collins and Ben Walsh trading and sharing vocals held firm against the popping guitar and hypnotic keyboard. Being unfamiliar with the band, I had no idea what any of their songs were or which album they could have come from. But they were wonderful. Their music took me back to a simplified style of songwriting that still managed to hit every correct note that hooked you in and refused to let go. I could understand why they had been around so long as a band, and why so many people had arrived early to see them.

Though they never hit the high mark of energy or noise of the rest of the night, their relaxed and steady stage presence paved their own path. The biggest mistake bands that tour with behemoths like Yellowcard or NFG can make is to sound like a pale imitation of either one, which is a trap that Tigers Jaw never fell into.

Yellowcard

Yellowcard

Yellowcard took the middle spot, demolishing the room upon entry. Guitars blazing and violin ripping, they tore immediately into the early catalog from Ocean Avenue with songs “Way Away” and “Breathing”. Every major single was hit, from “Lights and Sounds” to “Always Summer” and yet another riotous performance of “Ocean Avenue” enveloped the crowd, encouraging violinist Sean Mackin to do a back flip mid-song early on. One of the highlights of their set included vocalist Ryan Key alone on stage playing the keyboard for a softer, intimate version of fan favorite “Empty Apartment”.

The biggest detriment to Yellowcard is their range in discography. Each album has its favorites, and no concert will ever be able to cover everything fans want to hear. Aside from the hits, the band focused on two albums specifically; Ocean Avenue and Lift a Sail. “Crash the Gates” and “Lift a Sail” sound much better and harder in person than they ever could on an album, and it breathes new life into a record that sounds unlike anything else the band has put out.

While the band themselves put on an amazing performance, of note is current drummer Tucker Rue, formerly of Thursday. Longineu W. Parsons III is a brilliant drummer (my personal favorite), and filling his shoes is no small feat. Obviously a veteran, Rue managed to engage and make missing Parsons not hurt quite as bad.

New Found Glory

New Found Glory

New Found Glory headlined the evening, opening with a scorching rendition of “Resurrection”. From there, it didn’t matter what they played; each song might as well have been their big hit. Fan favorite “Hit or Miss” jolted the crowd early (rather than be a closing song) and spurred multiple circle and mosh pits. “All Downhill From Here”, “Selfless” and “Vicious Love” with a guest appearance by Brianna from Tigers Jaw were a few of the highlights, but the energy never so much as wavered throughout the set.

The only thing that paused the band from jumping across the stage at any time was when they pointed to a fan in the front row named Brad and not only invited him on stage, but asked him to pick a song that wasn’t on their set list and sing it was Jordan. He chose “Second to Last” from the band’s self-titled album, prompting the crowd to chant “Brad! Brad! Brad!” and guitarist Chad Gilbert to momentarily throw quick glances at the rest of the band to make sure they all remembered how to play it before rampaging through the song as though it were their big single.

New Found Glory remains one of the few bands that have not only retained their fanbase the entirety of their career, they have also kept their core sound intact while making each release sound new and intimidating among a new generation of musicians inspired by and evolving off of NFG. Every song they play, regardless of which record, sounds just as important as any song that could have made them a radio phenomenon. The audience jumped as though they had seen the band a dozen times before, and would see them again a dozen more. One man held his young daughter up on his shoulders in the back for her to see, and although she couldn’t have been more than five years old, NFG was already shaping her to be a new generation raised on their music.

Pop punk is a scene meant to push its way into your life, and immediately leave to some degree. Whether that means that you outgrow the sound, or the bands you love dissolve after an album or two, its rare to see a group stay together for a 10-year reunion tour, much less two bands together and better than ever after almost 20. Yellowcard and New Found Glory have carved their way into legendary status within music. Both have evolved with a generation of music that they helped shape and mold, and remain at the forefront.

I only managed to see the first of a two night headlining gig in Chicago, allegedly with different songs played each night for New Found Glory. But the fact that these bands can manage two nights worth of shows for fanatic listeners means something. Thankfully, it seems like they’re here to stay.

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 New Found Glory was his first major band. Long live NFG!

Vinyl Spotlight: Yellowcard – A Perfect Sky

yellowcard_vinyl

Every so often, our resident vinyl lover, Kiel Hauck, takes the time to talk about a recent vinyl release and gives a breakdown about everything from packaging to sound quality. Here’s his latest installment.

As we continue our discussion of Record Store Day 2015, we turn our attention toward another highly sought after release: Yellowcard – A Perfect Sky. This 10-inch record features three unreleased/acoustic mixes from their 2014 album Lift a Sail. The pressing by Razor & Tie is limited to 1,000 copies.

It’s no secret that we were huge fans of Lift a Sail, making this pressing quite an exciting release. Adding to the intrigue was the lack of background information on the unreleased songs. Yellowcard very rarely fails to deliver, so it stood to reason that A Perfect Sky would meet our expectations. How did it measure up? Let’s take a look.

Packaging and Presentation

Judging from the pre-released image of the cover, A Perfect Sky looked quite pleasing to the eye. Sure enough, the artwork is striking, featuring deep purple, blue and green colors that echo the pastels featured on Lift a Sail’s artwork. The cover is simple and beautiful, featuring the band’s logo in the center, in front of what appears to be a cloudy, night sky.

The packaging here is quite simple, featuring an inner sleeve with lyrics on one side and a concert photo of singer Ryan Key with an acoustic guitar on the other. There’s really not much here, which is understandable considering that the release features only three songs. The record itself is pressed on 10-inch black vinyl, which feels odd with only one track on the B-side. More on that in a moment. All in all, the packaging is minimal, but the colors make it attractive.

Sound and Quality

This is where things get interesting. Featured on the release are two Neal Avron mixes of “MSK” and “California” from Lift a Sail and an acoustic Daytrotter session of “One Bedroom”. Put simply, the two Avron mixes are fantastic, but “One Bedroom” leaves a lot to be desired. “MSK” is given new life with a beautiful string arrangement backed by deep bass and gorgeous keys. The song was already outstanding in its original form, but this remix takes the song to a whole new level.

Likewise, “California” places delicate strings on top of the original keys, adding depth to the track. It could be argued that both of these songs sound better than the originals. The fact that both tracks are emotional, tug-at-your-heartstring numbers is only amplified by these new mixes. Many props are due to Avron, who never ceases to amaze when it comes to his Yellowcard production duties.

On the other side of the coin, this new version of “One Bedroom” is pretty bland. Part of the song’s original charm was its production value and swirling guitar solo, which are both stripped away in this version. It also begs the question of why an acoustic version of “Lift a Sail” or “Make Me So” wasn’t included on the B-side to fill out the record. In truth, it may have been better to leave “One Bedroom” off the release completely in favor of a simple 7-inch with “MSK” and “California”.

Nevertheless, A Perfect Sky is still a charming release that brings new life to a couple of the best tracks on Lift a Sail. There’s a chance that a few copies of the record may still be available, so drop by your local record store and have a look.

a_perfect_sky

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.

Better Than Ever: Finch and Yellowcard Find Renewal on Spring Tour

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As captivating of a notion as it is, rebirth is a tricky endeavor for any band. Not only do you risk alienating a loyal fanbase, but such an undertaking also requires an immense amount of talent to boot. One false move (or one bad album) can bring it all to an end.

It’s fascinating, then, to watch two bands, in Finch and Yellowcard, undergo their own respective renaissances during their current spring tour.

What’s especially peculiar about these revivals is that Finch and Yellowcard share extremely similar career trajectories. Both bands rose to mainstream prominence in the early 2000s thanks in part to massive hit singles. Both bands took extended hiatuses after lukewarmly received follow-ups. Both bands returned to immense fanfare, with Finch being the most recent.

Now, over a decade since their initial breakouts, both bands are touring together and appear to having as much fun as ever. Their stories would almost mirror if it weren’t for their unique individual approaches to resurgence.

Finch

Finch

Finch unexpectedly reunited in 2012 before (even more) unexpectedly recording a new album that released last year. Back to Oblivion is the official follow-up to 2005’s Say Hello to Sunshine, but it feels like the spiritual successor to their 2002 debut What It Is to Burn. While Back to Oblivion lacks the sharp emo punch of the band’s debut, it certainly makes up for it in urgency. It’s clear that Finch want to rekindle the spark that lit a fire for the band all those years ago.

This current incarnation of the band took the stage in Indianapolis with a great deal of energy. It’s fascinating to watch Finch perform classics like “What It Is to Burn” and “Grey Matter” alongside newer tracks like “Anywhere But Here” and “Two Guns to the Temple”. While the songs lack certain similarities on tape, they feel akin on stage. There’s something nostalgic about their performance, but it also feels like it belongs in the here and now.

Watching Nate Barcalow scream and fall to the ground in an emotional heap, you could almost forget that the vocalist is closer to 30 than 20. It’s somewhat wild watching the band capture a youthful vigor in their performance while playing newer and more mature tracks. Finch has grown up, but they haven’t grown old. What better way to come back than to capitalize on what got you there in the first place.

Two albums into their return to the scene, Yellowcard chose to take a different approach with their recent release, Lift a Sail. Instead of cashing in on another collection of pop punk gold, the band moved to a new label in Razor & Tie and released the most commercial and accessible album of their career.

Yellowcard

Yellowcard

In case you were wondering, those aren’t bad words. Lift a Sail finds Yellowcard treading new ground and displaying their talents in the most unexpected of ways. To see Yellowcard perform new tracks like “One Bedroom” or “Crash the Gates” is to watch the band in their prime. Truth be told, the band hasn’t sounded this comfortable in their own skin since they returned from hiatus.

Now, with a catalogue of hits too large to fill any single playlist, fans can watch over a decade’s worth of sonic movements play out in real time. Yellowcard still plays “Lights and Sounds” and “Ocean Avenue” with just as much energy and excitement as they did all those years ago, but they sound even more at home when Ryan Key plays the delicate “California” or when the band leads the crowd in singing the chorus of “Make Me So”. When violinist Sean Mackin opens the set with the uplifting “Convocation”, it’s a call to witness the band’s rebirth.

What makes the night so much fun is that both of the band’s audiences seem sold on their corresponding approaches. Fans delight to see the renewed energy of Finch while onlookers rejoice in song to Yellowcard’s new direction. No matter how you slice it, watching these bands embrace the past while forging ahead is a pleasure to watch.

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.

Review: Yellowcard – Lift a Sail

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The old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” certainly holds water in many situations, perhaps most notably amongst music fans who grow to love the signature sound of their favorite band. Yet for every band that has switched their style to disastrous consequences, there exist a few outliers – bands with the natural talent to pull off a sonic overhaul without losing their identity or dividing their fan base. You know it when you hear it.

Following 2012’s pop-punk revival, Southern Air, and on the heels of last year’s tenth anniversary tour of the classic Ocean Avenue, no one would have blamed Yellowcard for riding the wind of nostalgia and releasing something somewhat predictable. Instead, the Florida rock act flipped the script on everyone and, in the process, have the released the bravest album of their career.

Lift a Sail is not a pop punk album, but it is 100 percent Yellowcard at heart. Born from a tragic snowboarding accident that left lead singer Ryan Key’s fiancé paralyzed from the waist down over a year ago, the album is as painful as it is hopeful; as troubled as it is triumphant. It’s the soundtrack of a band that has paid tribute to its past and is ready to turn the page to something greater.

The album is an emotional rock record with pop sensibilities and a flair for ballads. While the shift may initially strike a nerve with some fans, it’s hard to imagine many walking away unsatisfied – the aftertaste is quite sweet here. Furthermore, the band’s long heralded ability to capture a feeling in their songs and display it with powerful sincerity is at an all time high on Lift a Sail.

The album opens with a gorgeous and somber violin introduction, courtesy of Sean Mackin. While one would never claim Mackin hamstrung by the band’s genre of choice in the past, Lift a Sail truly allows him the opportunity to explore sounds like he never has before. He relies much less on fast-paced intros and bridges, instead favoring often delicate and passionate moments that fill out the song and capture its emotion in the way only a violin can.

The tracks on Lift a Sail transition frequently between loud and anthemic to soft and delicate. “Transmission Home” is marked by brash guitars and pounding drums that lead into the best chorus Angels and Airwaves never wrote. “Crash the Gates” follows suit with fuzzy guitars and a spacey chorus, giving room for Key to push the track over the top.

Anyone who expected a lack of intensity after the departure of drummer Longineu Parsons III – fear not. Anberlin drummer Nate Young more than holds his own on these songs, adding elements of restraint and power not found on much of the band’s past catalogue. Young’s presence can be felt mightily on the electronic-heavy/80s-influenced “Fragile and Dear”, a song that finds Key utilizing a vocoder for added effect while Mackin makes his presence felt with an uplifting violin solo.

On the other end of the spectrum are tracks like “Madrid” and “MSK”, the former being a slow, sad acoustic love song while the latter is a building piano number, carried by Mackin’s violin and pushed over the top by Key’s massive chorus. Perhaps sounding more powerful and determined than ever before, he pleads, “As these mornings turn into brand new days / Everything still hurts, you’re so far away / I would dig a hole through the earth and crawl / To get to you”.

What holds the album together, though, are the in between moments that capture the best of both of these worlds. On lead single “One Bedroom”, the band puts on song-writing a clinic with a track as fresh as it is familiar and as earnest as it is poppy. Lift a Sail hits its highest point on the title track, a song so full of emotion and determination that it’s hard not get choked up when listening.

This is what Yellowcard do best – convey those small quiet moments that are so difficult to express. Here, Key declares his intention to move past his pain and through his difficult trial, singing, “If a cold wind starts to rise / I am ready now, I am ready now / With the last sail lifted high / I am ready now, I am ready now”. A song of hope that almost sounds as if it were sung through tears, “Lift a Sail” captures the feeling that threads its way throughout the entire record.

The album fittingly comes to a close on “California”, a quiet piano ballad that dreams of a day when two lovers can once again enjoy the state’s sunlight after the current state of pain has passed. It stands in stark contrast to Ocean Avenue closer “Back Home”, where a bitter Key wished nothing more than to run away from the west coast. It’s a beautiful and poetic finish in more ways than one.

After the release of Southern Air in 2012, I claimed it to “not only the best album of the band’s career, but an album that very well may shape the future of the genre, influencing an entirely new generation of bands just as they did nearly a decade ago.” I still hold firm to the back half of that statement, but it’s clear that Yellowcard has become much, much more than just a great pop punk band.

Yellowcard is telling a story, with each piece serving a different purpose and conveying a different sentiment. Lift a Sail called for something more – and the band delivered. Always willing to remember the past but never content to live in it, Yellowcard have become an example of what it means for a band to grow and evolve in all the right ways.

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.