By Luigi Sibona
The Wonder Years have graduated to songwriters without borders and the constraints of the genre they came up in. Furthering the creative deviations the band took on 2015’s ‘No Closer to Heaven’, The Wonder Years have produced their most intimate and expansive record to date.
‘Raining in Kyoto’ kicks the album off with a propulsive start and introduces you to the globetrotting, soul-bearing narrative that courses through ‘Sister Cities’. Featuring one of the record’s biggest, t-shirt-tugging, belt-along hooks, ‘Raining in Kyoto’ is a yearning lament to vocalist, Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell’s grandfather who passed away while the band were on tour in Japan. Soupy’s songwriting is so wildly empathetic you feel his loss in a way that’s frankly unparalleled.
I said it on the day it dropped and I say it now after quite literally hundreds of listens; lead single and title track, ‘Sister Cities’, is the best song I’ve heard this year and I’ll likely be still saying it come end of year. It’s truly outstanding. It is perhaps better-trodden ground in The Wonder Years canon but is so deftly written and delivered with such sincerity there’s a reason these guys are second to none in their field. A field that they refuse to ever get too comfortable in and rest on their laurels. I have every conviction that they could have written a ‘Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing’ Part 2 and fill it wall-to-wall with stadium-size hooks but that wouldn’t be honest to who these guys are.
It’s fair to say that as an album, ‘Sister Cities’ is certainly a less immediate listen that some of its predecessors but what it loses in pop-punk it more than makes up for in deep, rich-textured songs that play out across thematically intricate tapestry of yearning and heart ache. That’s not to say those moments of anthemic catharsis don’t come they’re just packaged slightly differently. When they do come, wrapped up in Soupy’s most disarmingly earnest and dynamic vocal performance to date, they pack a significant wallop. The soaring chorus vocal line of ‘The Ghosts of Right Now’ sounds as big as emotionally charged rock music can sound.
By the closing of the enrapturing final track, ‘The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me’, which weaves together masterfully delicate musicianship, near-painfully honest lyrics, and truly expansive song-structure, you’ll struggle to believe these guys were ever ‘just’ a pop-punk band.
I know I’ve used up nearly every synonym for the word ‘honest’ in this review but as a listener you are left with an overwhelming sense of delving into a person’s uninhibited emotions. It’s an almost intrusive experience at times, like you’re reading someone’s most internalised feelings committed to a diary no one was ever meant to read. But goddamn I’m glad we get to read it; this is a wonderful journey that manages to walk a razor wire between introverted stream-of-thought and the emotions that tie us together.