Review Summary: Happy, angry, driven, and young--yes, welcome to The Wonder Years.
Bands like The Wonder Years play with my head. An ever-present, lyrical obsession with the adolescent angst/problems of the youth today acts as their main vehicle to stage a riot for every pop-punker fan, but somehow, through it all, bands like this Philadelphia wrecking ball can give off vibes of being happy and cheerful despite their hardcore sound--not to forget the backing gang vocals that just seem to shout with an agenda to kill. It’s just so ironic in the way that the mood the band gives off can run so anti-parallel to the drive of the music. Honestly, I kind of wish the lyrics were violent. You know, throw in some blood and some well-implemented vulgarity--of the other
variety, mind you--into the mix for a good bit of fun and a better suited atmosphere. I can see it now: death pop-punk--the next hit sub-genre to break into the scene. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Oh well, it's just a thought.
’I’m not sad anymore / I’m just tired of this place’
, begins front man and belter Dan Cambell over clean arpeggios on opener “My Last Semester”. The band kicks it into high gear from here--we knew they would, yes, but it works well--and sophomore album The Upsides
is set to run its course. The Wonder Years have found their own little niche in that aforementioned happy/melodic hardcore sound, and suffice it to say, the band make sure to let everyone know this throughout the span of the album’s playing time. Anxious guitars and fever-pace drumbeats seem to contend with the urgency of the singer’s delivery on nearly all of the tracks on this album. In relation to the singer, it should be said that Cambell’s vocals will either be your ticket to, or your passport away from The Wonder Years. He’s got the nasally, yet earnest performance that I’m sure many are familiar with having grown up with the pop-punk boom during the turning point of the millenium. If New Found Glory’s Jordan Pundik is your thing, you will love this guy. If not, then there’s really no reason to bother with this band.
One of my favorite aspects about the happy/melodic hardcore movement is how the hooks of the songs are not as obvious at first when first listened to, nor are they too sugar-coated to the point of inducing vomit; as a result, repeated listens to these albums are usually rewarded with a deep set of sing-a-longs. Fortunately, The Wonder Years are able to instill this same characteristic on The Upsides
. Third time through the album you’re bound to be caught by your mom singing along to the infectious backing vocals of “Everything I Own Fits In This Backpack”. Heck, why don’t we just return to those memories of the troublesome women in our past--whom we knew were right all along--in “Melrose Dinner”. Lock the door, soundproof your room, and scream along to, ’I guess I’ll be honest / I could use you around!’
. There’s nothing wrong with indulging these desires every now and again, you know? It's not like she can hear you anyway.
Places where the band deviate from the established energetuc, pop-punk formula can be found in the ska-sounding “Hey Thanks”--which is assisted by Rachel Minton & Matt Belanger--and finale “All My Friends Are In A Bar”. Unfortunately, the prior doesn’t exactly succeed at what it sets out to do. The vocals from Rachel are a nice addition, true, but the melody and the short nature of the track disrupts what is now the frantic flow of The Upsides
; while the band should be applauded for attempting to switch it up a bit, something less drastic and more in line with their style would have been more suitable for a successful deviation track. The band close off the album by taking the easy way out: the finale just repeats lines from opener “My Last Semester” in an attempt to tie everything together. Sure, it seems a bit lazy and typical on the band’s part, but the emotional song close off The Upsides
well enough and gets the job done.
So I guess Philadelphia’s The Wonder Years are set to carry on the trend of the energetic, gang-vocal ruckus that’s become so popular in the last five years. Sophomore album The Upsides
does play strong to its influences: an obvious New Found Glory influence creates the foundation for the album; bits of Set Your Goals and A Day To Remember fill in the extra gaps; and The Wonder Years smooth the rough edges with a touch of their own to create the band’s core sound. The Upsides
may turn off some with its “I’ve-heard-this-all-before” feel, but there’s actually more hidden under the surface of the album than what’s presented with first spins. Who knows? In time, smirks and annoyed “humphs” might actually become smiles and laughter, and, dare I say, could there possibly be a desire to raise one’s fist in the air? Happy, angry, driven, and young--yes, welcome to The Wonder Years.
Now that that’s over, how about some death pop-punk next time around, guys?