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The Wonder Years - Sister Cities (Album Review)

Friday, 06 April 2018 Written by Katy Westaway

Photo: Jonathan Weiner

When listening to ‘Sister Cities’, it's often hard to believe that the Wonder Years are pop-punk veterans. The Philadelphia band's sixth studio album is a true mark of their progressive style, elegantly closing the door on the thrashier sounds of their youth. Their 2015 release, ‘No Closer to Heaven’, began the transition into a darker chapter, but here they really hit a musical peak.

Adopting a decidedly more sombre tone, the group impress from the get go with Raining in Kyoto, a cathartic anthem representing vocalist Dan Campbell’s feelings about missing his grandfather’s funeral while on tour. The depth of feeling sets the scene for the rest of the LP, combining expressive lyrics with powerful riffs.

As a whole, ‘Sister Cities’ feels like more than just an album. It’s a musical journal that harmoniously takes the listener through the band’s touring experiences, drawing parallels between others’ lives and their own.

“She scratches his back as he sobs on the asphalt / and what strikes me most is the symmetry / how they're framed just like you and me,” Campbell sings on Flowers Where Your Face Should Be, musing on the universal nature of love after observing a couple interacting while on the road in Costa Rica.

The album continues along its melancholic road with Pyramids of Salt, stripping back the dynamic guitars for a smoother sound while still packing a punch thanks to Campbell’s gritty vocals in the chorus. Alternating between fast-paced songs and more delicate moments like When the Blue Finally Came, ‘Sister Cities’ is an emotional ride. The title track is the closest the band gets to recreating the sound of their punk roots, but even here there is an air of maturity that sets it apart. Campbell’s metaphors speak of acceptance and finding salvation: “I was just mange and skin and bone / you took me into your home / kept warm on a blanket from your worn out winter coat.”

Each move they make is dripping with sentiment, but while the lyrics may elicit a charged response the songs are far from depressing. Catchy riffs complement Campbell’s impressive vocals, which seem to improve with every release. We have been able to chart his progression with his side project - Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties - while the Wonder Years’ ‘Burst & Decay’ acoustic EP further demonstrated just how flexible his capabilities really are. It’s no surprise he has pushed boundaries here, but it is also evident that he has poured heart and soul into each and every song.

The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me, the six minute closer, perfectly encapsulates the mood of ‘Sister Cities’. A pensive tone is held throughout, reaching its peak at the four minute mark with Campbell screaming: “When I was in shambles / when I got too weak / the ocean grew hands to hold me.” The lasting feeling is one of progress. With this blend of heavier sounds and more solemn themes, the Wonder Years have taken a risk and it has more than paid off. They appear to be capable of anything in the future.

The Wonder Years Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed April 11 2018 - LONDON O2 Academy Islington
Thu April 12 2018 - LONDON O2 Academy Islington
Fri April 13 2018 - MANCHESTER Manchester Academy 2
Sat April 14 2018 - GLASGOW Glasgow Garage
Sun April 15 2018 - LEEDS Leeds Uni Stylus
Tue April 17 2018 - BRISTOL SWX Bristol
Wed April 18 2018 - DUBLIN Button Factory
Thu April 19 2018 - BELFAST Empire Music Hall

Click here to compare & buy The Wonder Years Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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