Even if you’re not up to speeds with the respective news of the Pop Punk genre and it’s related scene, I would happily wager a crisp £5 note that you’ve at least heard of the Philadelphia outfit The Wonder Years. Since their 2010 sophomore record The Upsides, the group have been hailed as the heroes of the modern pop punk movement. Praised for their honesty, flexibility their dismissal of cliched stereotypes, the act ushered in a new era of pop punk, with many acts imitating their sound. Yet, whilst many acts would have locked down on such a revolutionary sound, one of the best elements of this act is the fact that each release sees them evolve and chip away at their established tone, creating anew with each record.
Yes, they were idolised as the portrait of pop-punk, but each release saw them shedding another layer of such dedicated aesthetics in favour of finding their own niche and musical alcove. Without a doubt, Sister Cities is the cumulative result of such efforts. This is the Wonder Years at their most refined, focused and individualistic.
Opening with the titanic anthem that is ‘Raining In Kyoto’, it quickly becomes transparent that the group have built on the alt-rock dynamics of their 2015 release, No Closer To Heaven. With it’s reverberating riffs leading to a colossal chorus, there’s not even the faintest of hints to their adolescent and nervous pop-punk roots found here, but the sense of maturity and integrity is phenomenal. Sister Cities is a release that loudly resonates the growth of this act and see’s their sound at its most expansive. The monolithic tension of the recently released single ‘Pyramids Of Salt’ gives way for the slight country sounding breeze of ‘It Must Get Lonely’ before delving into the sombre tenderness of ‘Flowers Where Your Face Should Be’, exposing the fact that the act have adopted a notable and appeasing sense of creativity and experimentation.
However, whilst their exposed sense of sonic flexibility is commendable and praiseworthy, it’s not the most notable element dynamic of this releases. It’s safe to say the majority of their material thus far has carried a sense of spunky anxiety, apprehension and nostalgic hindsight - especially in their later offerings. However, in comparison, there’s an unmistakable air of conscious melancholia within this record. Whilst this may suggest an aurora of depression, some of their most remarkable craftsmanship and musicianship thus far is to be found within this record. The vocal talents of Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell are just remarkable within this release, with his output on tracks such as ‘We Look Like Lightning’ and ‘When The Blue Finally Came’ portraying him at his most exposed and vulnerable. Even for a vocalist who is famed for his disclosed and unprotected vocal style, it feels like an impressive step up in terms of expressing tenderness.
That’s not to say that Sister Cities is a certain departure from the signature sound found within their previous releases. ‘Heavens Gate (Sad & Sober)’, ‘The Orange Grove’ and ‘The Ghosts Of Right Now’ project that punchy, catchy, yet withdrawn and emotive sound that’s evident within their previous offerings like The Greatest Generation and No Closer To Heaven. But still, there’s an ample air of progression regarding the sound – such sonic dynamics and elements comparable to their previous records feeling more refined, focused and concise. Just try and listen to the closing track ‘The Ocean Grew Hands To Hold Me’ without feeling goosebumps; it can’t be done.
Whilst the days of The Wonder Years exploring and documenting their adolescent adventures in a pop punk manner are gone, it’s for the best. Sister Cities is hands down their most progressive and professional work thus far. The record is the ultimate fruit of their labour; a release that projects the musical craftsmanship they’ve worked and expanded on and over the years. It feels like an album like this has been coming for years now, but I don’t think anyone was expecting it to this spellbinding.