Review Summary: I was only looking for a place to hide.
Last winter I got to see former Yellowcard frontman William Ryan Key live on a small tour opening for Normandie. His performance was mesmerising: not bringing anyone else on tour, it was just him handling everything. Key performed Yellowcard songs, quite surprisingly, in a rather unique ambient-pop-with-electrical-guitar style. While this worked extremely well, perhaps better than it should have, the best thing about Key’s set were the long stories he told in between songs. Despite only playing about 10 tracks, including long-retired Yellowcard deep cuts like ‘Keeper’, the singer-songwriter stood on the stage alongside his laptop, honey and guitar for well over 90 minutes.
Back then, Key had not released any songs under his ‘new’ moniker yet. While the renditions of the Yellowcard songs he played on tour might not have been a perfect indication of his solo music’s sound, it is clear that debut EP Thirteen
is very different from his former pop-punk band. A better indication of this sound were both the presence and content of the expansive stories told by Key onstage. Firstly, the fact that the singer took the time to tell anecdotes about Yellowcard’s career, his life and the songs showed his inner storyteller. Besides that, the way he spoke about Yellowcard’s major label fights (‘the new boss wore a pink polo shirt…’) and slipped up several times mentioning his band (‘…former band, my bad’) was of a melancholic nature that is present on all of the EP.
The story that stuck most with me from that evening was Key talking about his life in its current state. Standing in a tiny bar talking to a handful of fans, he started thinking out loud whether he missed Yellowcard and the show he played to a sold-out crowd of 1500 people in the same country the year before. The fact that Key never reached a conclusion shows up again in the lyrics on Thirteen
. Despite not necessarily or obviously dealing with the Yellowcard-topic, the five songs are all about introspection. Closer ‘Great Unknown’ is the best example of this, with Key asking himself: “Will I ever stop imagining？ / What if I’d done things differently？”
. On the track, Key’s vocals sound more vulnerable than ever before, layered beautifully on top of the intricate acoustic guitars. While the EP features pleasant ambient sounds, they are never as prominent as during Key’s live performance. Their subdued nature provides a cushion for the instrumentals to land on, adding a unique touch to the music. The bridge of single ‘Vultures’ is the best example of this, making for one of the most delicately pretty songs on Thirteen
Key using his full name for this project makes a lot of sense. He is not pandering to anyone, opting for subtlety instead of big Yellowcard-esque choruses, and the ‘realness’ pays off extremely well. None of the songs have to rely on catchiness, the music is intriguing and authentic enough to warrant multiple listens. The most obvious reference to his previous band is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. On ‘Great Unknown, Key sings: “When everybody filled me up with pride / I was only looking for a place to hide”
. It is the closest Thirteen
comes to a conclusive answer to the aforementioned unanswered question. It seems like William Ryan Key thinks he is best off playing small halls to small groups of fans.