Review Summary: Our darkest days are done.
Time has a way of toying with one’s perceptions. At twenty seven years old, I can remember most aspects of my early to middle twenties with astonishing clarity – the drunk late nights roaming the streets of my college town, the terrifying jungle that is the US job market, the devastating pain of being left behind for a guy over four thousand miles away, and the unbridled joy of lowering to one knee and presenting the true love of my life with a rock of, sadly, a similar price. Of course this is all mostly a blur, but I can pinpoint any specific time over that span and recall exactly how I felt – what music I was listening to, who I was hanging out with, and what my outlook on my own future was. Two years ago when Southern Air
hit the shelves at my local record store, I was enamored with the way that it seemed to coincide with my own life’s major events. Ryan Key appeared to have received a response to Yellowcard’s aptly titled When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes
, and that answer was “no.” Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, all the romanticism and sentimentality that accompanied ‘Only One’ vanished into thin air. But that’s how life goes; you can pour your heart and soul into something and it simply doesn’t work out. Maybe that’s why I related to Southern Air
so well. When Key declared, “I drink to you and I, because with the morning comes the rest of my life” I took it personally. I was ready to follow him wherever, just to escape the heartbreak that I too had recently endured. I never imagined how different things would be a mere two years into the future.
A lot has changed on Yellowcard’s front, too. Lift a Sail
is really unlike any album the band has made before, and any dedicated, longtime fan will know exactly how shocking that is. Yellowcard is a band of habit, with members who pride themselves on consistency over genre-bending experimentation, and this approach has served their fans quite well over the years. The lone departure was Lights and Sounds
, which was very much an artistic take on the early 2000s pop-punk scene. Many decry it as their weakest album to date – and I’d beg to differ – but I digress. Lift a Sail
is so much more to the tune of Lights and Sounds
than it is to Ocean Avenue
, and anyone who dismisses that as an outright weakness is doing his/her ears a hefty disservice. Immediate reactions might come to the tune of “but where are all the pretty violins!?”…“why isn’t this filled with references to summer, beaches, and all things warm?”… “is that, no – it can’t be, electronica?” Relax. Just…simmer.
This isn’t the immediately gratifying Yellowcard of the past. In some ways that’s disappointing, because the band has become something of a staple in pop-punk and I view each successive album release of theirs as a new chapter in my life. However, doesn’t that make it all the more appropriate then? This is a band that has moved on – emotionally, lyrically, and sonically. Key isn’t the same lovelorn poet that he was two years ago because, well, time
changes everything…even in small doses. He’s married now to Alyona Alekhina, a professional snowboarder from Russia. A tragic turn of events saw Alekhina suffer a spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis below the waist, and that’s where the majority of Lift a Sail
draws its inspiration from. You can still count on Yellowcard to deliver a classic pop-punk love song, and that comes in the form of single ‘One Bedroom’ – a simplistic midtempo ballad that transforms into an arena-packing rocker by its riff-filled conclusion. While it’s nice to have that comfort, Lift a Sail
as a whole is still a vast departure from their accomplished discography.
Part of the impetus behind the stylistic change of direction might have been spurred by Nate Young (of Anberlin) filling in for the departed Longineu W. Parsons III. The drumming on this album is admittedly less energetic, but for what it lacks in speed it makes up for in precision and creativity. The tempo of the entire album follows suit – expanding its boundaries into various new and undiscovered territories. It may have been done half out of desire and half out of need, but regardless, there are songs on Lift a Sail
that sound nothing like the Yellowcard you’ve known your whole life. ‘Fragile and Dear’ is a case in point, relying almost completely on a reverberating electronic backbeat to set the tone, featuring a massive chorus that is eventually bridged by digitally altered vocals. It’s akin to Thrice’s The Alchemy Index: Water
if there was a pop-punk version of that EP floating (ha) around somewhere. While the aforementioned track vies for the experimental limits of Yellowcard’s reach, there are still lesser risks throughout that are actually more enjoyable because they retain the band’s classic blueprint. Take ‘The Deepest Well’, which utilizes rougher vocals in the pre-chorus, for example. There’s also ‘Convocation’ and ‘Madrid’, both of which have a distinct ‘Three Flights Up’ feeling to them. In fact, those who have heard the b-side ‘Three Flights Down’ will notice that these two tracks have a similar give and take – with the former consisting solely of instruments and the latter retracing that overall tone and atmosphere with somber vocals.
During the album creation, Lift a Sail
was being promoted as a “massive rock record.” Although I’ve found comparisons to the Foo Fighters and Nirvana to be far-fetched, I’d still agree with the overall premise. Lift a Sail
attempts to make the leap from pop-punk to pop-rock, and they accomplish that feat admirably. There is no prior Yellowcard song that burns with the fiery electric riffs of ‘Crash The Gates’, or soars with the anthemic qualities of the album’s title track ‘Lift a Sail.’ The latter in particular stands out as a sure-to-be fan favorite, featuring an incredibly infectious chorus of, “If a cold wind starts to rise / with the last sail lifted high / if a storm blows in on me / when the waves come from underneath…I am ready now.” On the note of lyrics, Lift a Sail
features numerous triumphant moments – not the least of which is ‘Illuminate’, which possesses the album-defining sentiment “Do you picture me? What do you see? Maybe a future full of unwritten things…We hope to run from what’s been done, look for a future no one else has sung. Our darkest days are done.” If there’s a single passage that serves as an embodiment of Lift a Sail
’s musical direction, that is it precisely.
As Lift a Sail
delivers a heavy dose of rock and alternative genre experimentation, there is still a great deal of “classic” Yellowcard to be enjoyed. ‘My Mountain’, with its active drumming, fast paced riffs, and punchy verses sounds like it could have come from any number of past outings – although I’d liken it most to Paper Walls
’ ‘Cut Me, Mick.’ Although it’s more formulaic than the rest of the album, there’s always ‘Make Me So’ – a catchy blend of upbeat percussion, driving riffs, and one hell of a memorable chorus. The closer, fondly titled ‘California’, is kind of the antithesis of ‘Back Home’, relaying lyrical motifs but shedding them in a more positive and updated light. Instead of broken hearts and cigarettes by the ocean side, we have a piano ballad ode to Key’s wife: “when everything that I can see goes dark, I feel you here with me…you’re the only light I’ll ever need.” It feels like closure, and even though it comes in a rather simple and direct fashion, it’s beautiful.
On Lift a Sail
, we see a Yellowcard that is no longer holding back. It’s not their best album – no, not by any stretch. However, I’m more happy with what they’ve done here than I was with Lights and Sounds
(and probably all of their other releases, save Ocean Avenue
and Southern Air
…they’re just classics). When they released Lights and Sounds
in 2006, they didn’t quite know how to channel all of their creativity and ambition into something cohesive and simultaneously enjoyable. Lift a Sail
remedies that. It’s also in keeping an eye to the future that Key and company craft their most daring album to date. As reassuring as it was to know that every single Yellowcard album was going to be good, there was little risk involved to propel them over the top. Two years ago, I never would have expected this album from Yellowcard…and I hope that in 2016 I can look back and say the same thing about whatever record they have going at that time. And there we are again…time
. It can warp our perceptions, but if you think – and I mean really think
– about how much your life has changed in the last two years, you might be surprised. This band has undergone tremendous growth recently as well – not all of it without pain and heartbreak – and come out the other side wiser, more well-rounded, and just as optimistic as before. Lift a Sail
may not be the band’s overarching masterpiece, but it’s a crucial catalyst in getting them to stop trying to re-create Ocean Avenue
and start trying to craft a new, totally different magnum opus. With Lift a Sail
, I’ve never been more excited about the future of Yellowcard.
Do you picture me? What do you see? Maybe a future full of unwritten things.
We hope to run from what’s been done, look for a future no one else has sung.
Our darkest days are done, illuminate.