The Wonder Years are in their best years

By Jack Rechsteiner, managing editor.

When I first stumbled across The Wonder Years as they were putting out their debut album on No Sleep Records in 2008, I had no idea it would start a 10-year love affair with their music.

Since then, my relationship with The Wonder Years music has had its “Upsides” (sorry, I couldn’t stop myself) and downsides, just like any decade-long romance would. There was the honeymoon phase where I didn’t think any album could ever top “Suburbia I’ve Given You All,” there was the part where I was content with things being comfortable on “The Greatest Generation,” and there was the moment that I wondered where my passion had gone when “No Closer to Heaven” was released. But now, with “Sister Cities,” The Wonder Years have rekindled the fire in my heart that they started when I first became a fan of theirs.

As much as I loved the stereotypical pop punk themes of The Wonder Years’ other five albums, like wanting to escape your hometown with your friends, trying not to let sadness win and being nostalgic for the times that you weren’t a mess. Nonetheless, with “Sister Cities,” The Wonder Years have outgrown that youthful angst and instead are struggling with the experiences of getting older as they try to find their place in the world.

In a video to promote the album, frontman Dan “Soupy” Campbell called the album: “a record about distance, or maybe how little the distance matters anymore. It’s a record about big we thought it all was, and about how much closer to everyone we really are.” The songs across the album are about attempting, and somethings failing, to understand the things that happen to us and how they relate to the rest of the world. This might sound like grandiose pretentiousness if you’re not already a fan of The Wonder Years, but like everything else they do, there’s an honesty and vulnerability to it that makes it work.

The lyricism is the same compelling writing from Campbell that fans have come to expect from The Wonder Years, but the vocals on this album take a departure from Campbell’s usual style. Instead of anxious, emo-tinged pop punk vocals, “Sister Cities” shows him confidently singing across his entire range with a talent that catapults this album to being of The Wonder Years most powerful yet. Campbell belts out lines like “I drew a line in the sand with these worthless f–cking hands” or “I wanna lighten the dark, I wanna swallow the sun” with an emotional intensity that makes them land like a punch in the gut.

The instrumentation is also some of The Wonder Years most well written and well produced yet. The band is at their best as they fluidly shift between chorus-heavy anthems to aggressive riffs to more unconventional parts, where they play with slow builds and bursts of noise. The musical restraint the band uses in the slower moments of the album makes the heavy parts hit that much harder. The Wonder Years have come to be known for closing their albums with big and ambitious songs, and “Sister Cities” is no different. “The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Us” is a soaring post-rock track that builds into a wave of crashing guitars while Campbell sings about learning to lean on the people who love him. With these expansive songs The Wonder Years have gone well beyond pop punk and shown their progression and creativity in the sound that they’ve crafted.

“Sister Cities” has already cemented itself as one of my favorite albums (and maybe even the number one album) of 2018.

5 out of 5 stars.

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