Podcast: The Wonder Years Strike Again

On our latest podcast, Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz are joined by It’s All Dead writer Nadia Paiva to discuss the latest release from The Wonder Years. During the discussion, the trio debate the merits of Sister Cities and dialogue about where the album lands among the band’s best releases. They also share their favorite songs from the album and talk about the band’s knack for human stories and connecting with listeners. Listen in!

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What was your favorite song on Sister Cities? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Finding Solace in the Music of The Wonder Years

While the chill of winter may still be far from over, we can trust that the sweet dawn of spring will come with new music from The Wonder Years. Last week, the Lansdale, Pennsylvania, pop punk act announced the release of their upcoming album, Sister Cities, on April 6. I have yet to watch the new trailer the band released to promote the album, nor do I have intent to do so.

That’s not to say I have no interest in new music from The Wonder Years, it’s just that their music carries an intense kind of baggage for me, something I only fully realized while spinning my vinyl copy of The Greatest Generation this weekend. I’ve long believed that The Wonder Years’ albums should be listened to in full, from front to back in one sitting, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

“I don’t have roses in the closet / But I’ve got pictures in a drawer / And it’s everything left in me not to stare at them anymore”

I was aware of The Wonder Years amidst their 2010 breakout with The Upsides, but didn’t dig in deep with the band until the following year, with the release of Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing. That album came fresh on the heels of my divorce and brought a mean kind of comfort. I’d venture to say that I’ve only felt such a deep, personal connection with an album a handful of times in my life.

So vivid are my early memories with this album that I can remember every moment of the night-time car ride I took with Suburbia on the evening I purchased it. I can still remember the click of my turn signal while sitting at a stoplight on Bardstown Road in Louisville, Kentucky, dead inside, as the first verse of “My Life as a Pigeon” tore through my soul.

Everyone who knows me knows about my hyperbolic habits, and yes, I believe Suburbia to be one of the best pop punk albums ever written, but it’s more than that to me. It’s the story of a year I spent as a ghost, not sure where home was anymore. It’s the soundtrack to an upheaval of my life, and how I slowly, painfully, wonderfully found the ground again.

“I’ve been acting like I’m strong / But the truth is, I’ve been losing ground”

It wouldn’t take long for Dan Campbell and crew to cross paths with me again. Their next album, The Greatest Generation drove headlong into my continued fight with depression, made even more bitter by my mother’s unexpected battle with cancer. Like it was yesterday, I can remember the tears streaming down my face as I sat quietly at my desk at work with “Dismantling Summer” playing through my headphones.

Alone, in a room full of people, hundreds of miles away from my mom in a hospital bed, Soupy’s cries of, “What kind of man does that make me?” still haunt me to the core. My mom would go on to make a full recovery from her cancer. I’m still working on my depression, but The Greatest Generation is a blunt reminder of another period of my life in which The Wonder Years sang the songs and questions of my heart.

I’m writing this partly for therapeutic reasons and partly as a continuing examination of the role of music in my life. I’m eternally grateful for the music of The Wonder Years, even if I can only revisit it infrequently. What makes the music we love truly great? The songs we play relentlessly, finding repeated joy in the moment, or the songs we return to carefully and cautiously, knowing the ache attached within? In my experience, it’s a little bit of both.

I’m excited about what new sounds Sister Cities will bring, but content with the idea that the band’s music has done enough for me already. I have no deep expectations, other than the hope that this new album will provide a similar salve for someone else.

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: 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 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

Five Year Retrospective: The Wonder Years – The Upsides

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I hated the prick on the album cover at first glance – this guy wore a shirt similar to what I was wearing and smiled awkwardly as though attempting to apologize for a fight I’d personally had with him. The cardboard sign reading “The Upsides” taunted me for how miserable I felt. I stood seething in a Hot Topic, looking down at this album sitting alone in a grim selection of CDs and salty rubber wrist bands. I bought it just to spite him.

It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

It’s hard to believe that The Wonder Years weren’t a part of my life, much less one of the leading voices of pop punk in January 2010. I’d listened to their debut album Get Stoked On It! a year before and had been very “eh” towards it. I popped the CD into my car hoping for mediocre punk rock to distract me for forty-five minutes from how utterly miserable I felt every day. Instead, I didn’t even get out of the parking lot before the opening line sent a stopped me literally in my tracks, cliché as that may be.

The first and last sentence uttered on the record is one of the most genuine punk rock ideas in all of music; “I’m not sad anymore”. It’s simple, elegant and such a sheer war cry to fight back against whatever may be burdening your life. Everything on the album revolves around this idea.

The linear notes state that the original concept when the record was being written was to write about the depression the band felt and the suffocation of feeling down and out in your early twenties, something that most people experience. However, the way that it often happens, it’s something small that usually reminds you that this type of angst just isn’t that bad and it will eventually get better; in this case, the fountain in Philly’s Logan Circle being turned on.

“I’m not sad anymore” changed the pop punk genre as a whole. Other bands in the scene more or less wrote about the same punk issues (lost the girl, attempt to win the girl, depression and drugs), or had begun inspirational easycore (Set Your Goals, Four Year Strong), but the attitude was still that the music needed to be rowdy enough to break some beer bottles. The Upsides based itself in loud pop punk that allowed itself to ease and flow as the lyrical content needed, something that gave the lyrics the energy to be fight back against the world and soften enough to have translatable meaning.

The Upsides is a story about understanding and overcoming when you feel out of place in the world around you. College angst, the paralyzing loneliness as your closest friends move away or settle into their lives, the upheaval of relationships and trying to remember what home felt like. Songs like “This Party Sucks” and “It’s never Sunny In South Philadelphia” base themselves in depression, especially with lyrics like, “We stopped standing proud a year ago now / What you see is just a shell of who I used to be / I can’t believe I got this weak”. However, the context of this type of darkness is just a back story that helps lead to finding your bottom and pulling yourself up.

The connection that this album made to listeners is that it felt real. The term gets thrown around with a lot of music these days, but it’s a concept that has come to be one of the staples to TWY’s music, and this was the first time it had started to bud from them. The lyrics read like a novel in the way that it mentioned ‘characters’ (Dave and Spiro), everyday experiences like “talking shit in diners” and “sitting on the roof with Matt and Molly”. Tangible locations like Logan Circle, or inside jokes (“the Blue Man Group won’t cure depression”) became a focal point to ground the story. These concepts, in their simplicity alone, are based on real memories and interactions that everyone has had.

The Upsides is a therapeutic concept album for sure, until you realize that it’s really not meant to be. It’s just an album written by some guys who aren’t trying to be more than just that – friends trying to get a band off the ground while maintaining their sanity. Vocalist Dan Campbell wasn’t the best singer at this stage of his career, and further away from how good he would become than might be comfortable. He’s loud and often times off-key, but it only makes him sound more genuine.

As if that weren’t enough, the music is incredible. The chord progressions and riffs are unique in that you can tell how much they’d learned about writing music since the release of Get Stoked On It!, but were just beginning to harness the energy and talent for the writing of Suburbia I’ve Given You All and The Greatest Generation. While pop seemed to overpower the punk side of it, the songs were ravenously loud behind such words of encouragement instead of shouted rebellion.

The closer, “All My Friends Are In Bar Bands” is savagely simple, but one of the most profound songs the band has written. After nearly an hour to singing about trying to stave off depression and fight back against a world that wants to take you down, the final piece just wonders aloud what all of their friends are doing at home and runs down a list of names. During one verse, Campbell sings a line that hit me as a universal truth to start on the road to overcoming sadness: “I’ve spent twenty-two years just wading through bullshit, and hey, it’s worked so far / I don’t know why I’m here but I know who my friends are”.

The Upsides isn’t the best Wonder Years album. Its imperfect in many ways and even somewhat sloppy in execution, but it’s a genuine rebellion against giving up that nothing else can even come close to. They’ve grown exponentially as a band since its release, but everything since then (Suburbia I’ve Given You All and The Greatest Generation) has stemmed directly from this, written as a retrospective trilogy and references to the songs from this album spread throughout. The Upsides was the exact album needed for the beginning of a new decade that started in the slumps.

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 has seen Wonder Years almost every time they’ve been near the city for the last few years. He is an obsessive maniac who hasn’t been able to go a week without listening to one of their albums since The Upsides reinspired his love for music half a decade ago.

Most Anticipated of 2015: #1 The Wonder Years

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UPDATE: A new album, No Closer to Heaven, is coming September 4!

If I need to explain why The Wonders Years make the top spot, you haven’t been paying attention. Although the band is roughly ten years old, they more or less burst onto the scene out of nowhere five years ago with the release of The Upsides and have done nothing but redefine what a pop punk band can do ever since.

In theory, The Wonder Years are as simple as can be; they turn the guitars loud and blast away a punk song with a catchy chorus. In practice, each consecutive release ups the ante and nearly dwarfs the album before it. The writing gets tighter and heavier, and the lyrics deeper and broken down to the essential parts of the human experience. Somehow, the concepts of each album relate to what has come before it, making their past discography more relevant as it helps build on each new song.

The Wonder Years are a story that is ever growing. Their last three albums have been retrospectively grouped as a trilogy about growing up. Each album has multiple call backs to the records before it, be it the characters, the locations or the melodies and lyrics. Where their new album goes is a difficult question to answer: since it sits outside of the trilogy we’ve known up ’till now it may be something completely new that we haven’t heard from the band before. But that’s nothing to be wary of; they’re constantly pushing themselves into new territory.

However, the spat of side projects from the various members (Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties, Why Bother?) over the last couple of years have let the band experiment in new territory that may or may not make its way to their core sound. Aaron West in particular was an exorcise in lyricism and storytelling that overshadows nearly everything else in its genre. From what I can tell, the band lives off of trying to top themselves with each release to make pop punk into a refined art form. Regardless, being TWY, all signs point to the album being loud, aggressive and catchy as all hell.

It’s going to be a big year. A new album is almost guaranteed, especially since The Greatest Generation was released almost two years ago and the band are already signed for another full run of this year’s Warped Tour. Maybe I give them too much credit, but the band has been at the forefront of the pop punk rebirth in the 2010’s without even flinching. Even if the album is a bomb, the band is an inspiration of hard work and ferocious integrity that anyone can and should look up to.

“It’s gonna be our year, boys”.

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 has seen Wonder Years almost every time they’ve been near the city for the last few years. He is an obsessive maniac who hasn’t been able to go a week without listening to one of their albums since The Upsides reinspired his love for music half a decade ago.

The Wonder Years release “Dismantling Summer” music video

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The Wonder Years have released a new music video for the song “Dismantling Summer” from last year’s The Greatest Generation. This is the third music video to be released from the album and you can check out the video below:

If you haven’t picked up The Greatest Generation, you’re missing out. You can download it from iTunes.

What are your thoughts on the new video?

The Wonder Years: Why they mean so much to the scene

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“I’m not sad anymore”. It’s the simplest phrase you can think of; a three year old can say it coherently. But it’s the foundation and backbone for a revolution to the pop punk scene that is changing it for the better.

The Wonders Years are the embodiment of overcoming adversity in every sense of the phrase, musically, personally and professionally. They weren’t the first, but simply the best at turning a stagnant scene into a positive force of brutal honesty and integrity. Simply put, The Wonder Years are not only the pinnacle voice of this generation, they’re the single best touring band in the country.

While they’re commonly seen as the new symbol of the pop punk genre, the real threat of this band is actually much deeper. They rewrote the entire playbook for the scene in three records over three years. They’ve never really attempted to be more than they are: They’re just a group of guys trying to figure things out, playing the music they like without hiding behind shitty poetry in an attempt to sound like rock stars or set out to make the next great radio hit. They’re loud, invasive and often times stylishly off key, but it connects to their fans in ways that most bands never mange throughout their entire careers.

Musically, The Wonder Years are ahead of the game as each release shows every member becoming exponentially more talented in their field without changing the formula that they started out in. But it might be their lyricism that helps to connect with so many people. I’d heard The Wonder Years for the first time around early 2009 and thought of them as nothing but a novelty. They were a band that made references to Captain Crunch, created song titles like “Dude, What is a Land Pirate?” and just blasted synth over amateurish sounding guitars. When The Upsides hit, it came like a bomb.

Throughout three major releases, they’ve managed to stray away from obvious topics of girls and broken love, instead tackling topics of life on the road, the harshness of feeling misguided in your early 20’s and trying to make yourself the best you can be, even in the darkest of hours. Their lyrics come from base language and are crafted so that relatable life experiences are approached straight on without fear. In doing so, they have found a way to churn out one unstoppable chorus after another without predictable rhymes.

Each album grows with the band as well; instead of writing more pop songs and seeing their audience outgrow the themes, the themes themselves grow. Where The Upsides started by feeling misguided and out of place in college, The Greatest Generation picks up nearing the age of 30, wondering if the life choices made up to that point were the right calls.

It’s thoroughly thought out writing that incorporates evolving references to past albums and accidental characters that continuously appear (We’ve heard about ‘Richie’ so far on all three records to some degree). It’s a series of small references, but it helps you feel like part of something much bigger each time you find one, and it makes the most recent songs sound that much more important.

Onstage, they’re an explosive force, bouncing and spinning with an energy that their peers oftentimes lack. Saves The Day, a legend of the genre, barely move on stage and instead just play. The Wonder Years are a constantly moving force of energy with bounding set lists to give their shows an energy and camaraderie that makes the crowd feel like part of what makes the songs so important in the first place.

It’s easy to kiss ass to a band you like, but The Wonder Years are something different. They forced themselves out of the profile of another crummy punk band to something profound. They sing to anyone who has ever felt lost to let them know that it will all be okay as long as you never give up, and back it with the crashing pop punk to give you energy to wait it all out.

This isn’t a band that happened to find the spotlight for a brief moment in time. The Wonder Years are the embodiment of a generation that is struggling to find its place in a world that seems out of focus, but aren’t willing to stop fighting to make it work.

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 premiere “There There” music video

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Lansdale, Pa. pop punk act The Wonder Years have just released the new music video for their song “There There”. Check it out below:

“There There” is the second single to be released from this year’s The Greatest Generation on Hopeless Records. If you haven’t bought the album yet, do it – it’s one of this year’s best. You can purchase the album on iTunes.

What’s your favorite track on The Greatest Generation? Tell us in the replies.