Review Summary: Growing up has just begun.
As Yellowcard stamped its triumphant return, When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes
, with the closing track ‘Be The Young’, I found myself more affected than I probably should have been by a pop-punk album at the age of twenty four. We all tend to think of growing up as something that happens when you are a child, and perhaps as something that continues into your young adult life as well. There’s no accounting for where the time goes – we just learn lessons, make memories, and become the people we think we are supposed to be. Once that’s all settled, we are “grown ups.” But the line, “this is endless and I know, growing up has just begun”, for as simple of a notion as it is, really got me thinking about how we perceive growth – both in ourselves and in others. As someone who has journeyed halfway through his twenties, graduated college, and now holds a full-time job, I’ve started to realize – as Ryan Key cautioned in the aforementioned quote – that growth isn’t finite. It’s something that occurs gradually from the time you are born until the moment you pass. I think that it only makes sense for bands to progress in a similar fashion. Their first few steps usually fall upon unstable ground, testing the waters in search of an identity. Then, with more time and experience, they blossom into confident musicians. In Yellowcard’s case, we see a band that has been remarkably consistent, to the point where they’ve been accused of not progressing much at all. While it may be true that the band has remained loyal to its sound over all these years, there is something to be said for dependability in today’s perpetually evolving musical climate. For many fans, Yellowcard has become a staple of pop-punk. Not only are they a symbol of our youth, but they have grown up with us – laughing when we laugh, crying when we cry, and just sharing our experiences with us. Therefore, Southern Air
isn’t just the next installment in Yellowcard’s discography – to some of us, it’s the next chapter in our life.
I can't believe that I still care enough to write
Bottoms up tonight I drink to you and I
‘Cause with the morning comes the rest of my life
It’s really a fitting way for lead vocalist Ryan Key to kick off Yellowcard’s second post-hiatus album, as the above passage from ‘Awakening’ acknowledges everything from the “growing up has just begun” sentiment to Yellowcard’s dedication to their fans and to themselves. In other words it is the ideal continuation, picking up where When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes
left off. Southern Air
truly does feel like an awakening
for the band, bringing all of the pop-punk flair you would expect from Yellowcard with a kind of weightlessness that we haven’t felt since Ocean Avenue
, or perhaps even One For The Kids
. The liberated aura stems not only from the lyrics, but also from the natural flow of every song on the record. Southern Air
is one of those albums that you can listen to from start to finish without skipping a single song. That may be primarily due to their easily digestible style, but there is also a freshness in their approach this time that just can’t be manufactured – it can only come with the type of fine seasoning experienced by a band that has seen highs and lows, and has emerged from the wreckage both unscathed and rejuvenated.
The time spanning eight full-length albums easily could have taken its toll on Yellowcard, but, as anyone who has listened to Southern Air
knows, this is an album brimming with energy. The previously mentioned ‘Awakening’ wastes no time making that known, with eager violins providing the backdrop to an optimistic chorus that sets the tone for the entire listening experience. ‘Surface of the Sun’ boasts a vigorous riff, progressing effortlessly along with Parsons’ impressive drumming. The first two tracks work together quite well, while giving fans a taste of the liveliness and vitality that they can expect henceforth. ‘Always Summer’ delivers on that promise, displaying Sean Mackin’s skills on violin like they have (perhaps) never been showcased before. The solo towards the end of the song, in particular, is rather impressive – and it brings a uniqueness to the album that their prior two releases sorely lacked. One would also be remiss to overlook the Patrick Stump co-written ‘Here I Am Alive’, which swells with Tay Jardine’s (of We Are The In Crowd) guest vocals and the catchiest chorus they have written since ‘Only One’ hit the airwaves. If ever there were to be a track to make Yellowcard radio-relevant again, this is the one. It may not be the most interesting song on the album, but it possesses all of the fundamental aspects and quirks needed to make it an identifiable hit.
While the album’s first half possesses some of its most accessible material, it is the middle section and the second half that are the most impressive. ‘Sleep In The Snow’ is the kind of song that Yellowcard never would have written for Lights and Sounds
or Paper Walls
. The way it progresses within itself is unbelievably fluid, alternating between keen drum fills, melodic electric guitar riffs, and tuneful-but-not-quite-infectious verses. By the time the bridge arrives, it is clear that all of this has been setting the stage for one of the album’s first tender moments. Arriving on a gorgeous piano canvas, Key pours his heart out with what might be his best vocals ever. Bordering on falsetto without quite reaching that annoying of a height, Key laments, “you think you can leave me here, but I know you’ll be back next year.” Served in the context of preceding passages such as, “I’ve always run right through the moments that count, but somehow with you I slow down”, and “you’re like the winters that you’ve always known / warm on the inside, while I sleep in the snow”, it becomes clear that Key is singing about somebody that he loves but can’t reach for some reason. During the “winter” (real or metaphorical), he is left in the cold but he knows that in due time she will open her heart again. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but for pop-punk lyrics, it’s leaps and bounds above Yellowcard’s peers. Much like on albums from the past, we have Ryan Key’s sensitivity – and his keen ability to express what he is feeling – to thank for that.
As Southern Air
’s home stretch comes into sight, the band is really hitting its stride. The fact that they approach the second half already rolling on all cylinders results in one of the most confident-sounding finishes that we have heard on a Yellowcard record. ‘A Vicious Kind’ revitalizes the album’s pulse after the melancholy end to ‘Sleep In The Snow’, while ‘Telescope’ settles into a sweet spot and offers up an excellent mid-tempo rocker. The chorus, “my only hope / you’re my telescope” is a little underwhelming, but it is ultimately forgivable in light of the solid instrumentation – not to mention that the lyrics comprising the verses are much more well-thought-out. ‘Ten’, despite containing a few cringe-worthy moments of country influence, sees Key penning the most emotional ballad of his entire life. He mourns the loss of a child (who would presumably be ten at the present time) with storytelling lyrics that depict one of the saddest things a human being can go through:
I found out in the fall I’d been gone
On the road for a year
She said, "honey, I've got real bad news" and
Then there were just tears
And we would never be the same again
Since then I've often wondered
What you might have been like
How it would have felt to hold you,
Would you have my eyes"
Don't you think we would've been best friends"
Whether or not this is Key’s own child or a tribute to somebody else’s is left to question, although the second line revealing that he’d been “on the road for a year” suggests that the ballad is truly personal. I’ll be the first to admit that upon initial inspection, I found ‘Ten’ to be the weakest track on the album. However, once I had the opportunity to analyze the lyrics and what they meant, it has taken on an unprecedented amount of meaning. Adding to the heartbreak is the second verse, which (at the risk of making a controversial assumption) seems to suggest the child was chosen
not to be had:
We were twenty-two years young then
Breaking rules all around
We were moving in that first apartment
It felt like it was never gonna end
Both so lost and crazy
We were young so we ran
Now I live in a dream where I am
Holding your little hands
If you don’t make ‘Ten’ all about the lyrics, then you are missing the point. It thrives off – and exists because of – its heavy lyrical topic. There isn’t a whole lot going on outside of Key and his guitar, but if you listen closely you’ll discover one of the most poignant moments in Yellowcard’s career...perhaps even in the whole of pop-punk. ‘Rivertown Blues’ and the title track ‘Southern Air’ act as bookends, surrounding ‘Ten’ with heavier doses of energy to make its vulnerable nature even more noticeable. ‘Rivertown Blues’ is a percussive onslaught, completely unleashing Parsons’ raw talent upon the listener. Of course, Mendez is not to be outdone as he delivers the best and most complex riff we’ve heard since ‘The Takedown.’ ‘Southern Air’ is the ideal closing track, circumventing the “last song equals a slow song” cliché with a violin-heavy rocker that still manages to possess the inspiring lyrics of an acoustic ballad: “This southern air is all I need / breathe it in and I can see / Canvasses behind my eyes / All the colors of my life.” Simply put, ‘Southern Air’ is one of the strongest tracks on this album – if not the best outright.
With their eighth studio album, Yellowcard anything but disappoints. They take everything that a longtime fan could want – huge hooks, sunny choruses, heartfelt lyrics, upbeat tempos – and combine it with new elements that give their sound just the right amount of push. They aren’t completely branching out or making any huge departures in sound, but subtleties such as the guest vocals of Tay Jardine (of We Are The In Crowd) and Cassadee Pope (of Hey Monday) – along with the band’s discovery of the proverbial fountain of youth – all give Yellowcard the spark they need to keep going strong at a point so deep into their careers. And as for the whole growing up thing, it seems that Yellowcard has become a band that matures with its audience. The same listeners who suffered through broken hearts during Ocean Avenue
can look forward to Southern Air
’s silver linings, while still looking back fondly and remembering the times they once blasted ‘Ocean Avenue’ in their cars with their windows down. Because after all, no matter how much we grow up
, it’s always summer in our hearts and in our souls.
The sun lays down inside the ocean
I'm right where I belong
Feel the air, the salt on my skin
The future's coming on