William Ryan Key
Thirteen


4.6
superb

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
May 25th, 2018 | 55 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The former Yellowcard frontman returns with a work not bold, but brilliant nonetheless.

Yellowcard’s lasting appeal always left me pondering what we value in our music. Even as a devoted fan I had to admit that they were very much an average band technically, relying on tugged heartstrings to see them through ten full length LPs. Vocalist Ryan Key appeared on eight of those records, seeing the group through its most successful and obviously recognizable stretch of years that included pop-punk staples such as Ocean Avenue and Southern Air. The more I weigh the band’s objective skill set against the emotional connection that they seemed to forge so effortlessly with their fan base, the more amazing of a feat those ten albums seem. How did they manage to connect so consistently with a group of listeners who were aging, developing more advanced musical preferences, and living during a decade in which the very foundation of musical consumption shifted from physical to digital formatting, thus rendering commercial success entirely at the mercy of fickle whims and a need for instant gratification? It’s certain that the elevated popularity of pop-punk during the early-to-middle 2000s played a large hand in their catapulted stardom, but Yellowcard’s reputation endured long after the death of such trends – outliving Limewire, MTV, and everything else that helped catalyze the movement. Even down to their self-titled swan song in 2016, there had always been an admiration for the group’s sincerity – a credit that lands squarely on the vocal charm and lyrical works of Mr. Key.

The thing is, he made himself easy to relate to. For as simple as his ideas were – focusing intently on the concepts of love, friendship, and home – he managed to deliver the sort of lines that felt like everything we’d always wanted to say. So when I first discovered that he was releasing solo material, the first thing that crossed my mind wasn’t the musical direction that he would choose, but whether or not he would be able to maintain that relatable character…the intangible connection that seemed to spontaneously materialize on every Yelloward release. Now utilizing his full name, William Ryan Key (why so grown up now, Ryan?), and with his debut EP Thirteen, he’s proven that the ongoing story that was Yellowcard continues – merely under a different guise.

I’ll surely have a few stones hurled my way for saying this, but a solo Ryan Key sounds a lot like Elliott Smith. The acoustic guitars are vibrant and more complex than they ever were with Yellowcard, and the punchy verses that overlay his pristine picking sound like something right off the pages of Figure 8. ‘Vultures’ and ‘Form and Figure’ best embody this comparison, thriving on the same kind of energetic strumming and confessional lyricism. Percussion is actually nowhere to be found until the final track, which allows Key and his guitar to dictate the pace. He rises to the occasion both vocally and instrumentally, taking the time to ensure that every note is dynamic, rich, and full-sounding. It’s a best of both worlds feeling, absorbing these splendid sounds while still being treated to heart-on-his-sleeve lyrics that make you swear you’ve known Key his entire life. Some of the best lyrics come right on the EP’s opener, ‘Old Friends’, where Ryan (no, William…no, I just can’t) opens up about his road to stardom and the impact it had left on the people that he abandoned. “In 1999, I was first learning to sing…breakneck and reckless I had a trail to blaze ahead, no count or cost of who I might have left for dead” Key laments in the very opening seconds, immediately establishing a present tense setting for Thirteen, before he continues – even more damningly this time – “Went looking for a river of gold when my hometown was catching on fire, left everyone I love in the smoke…” It’s a very personal apology, as if he felt the need to make amends now that the fanfare of band life has cleared. The song, set to somber but beautiful acoustic picking, feels like everything that music from a thirty eight year old Key should sound like.

Another thing that should not be left unstated is Key’s development as a vocalist. If you compare his Yellowcard debut One For The Kids to his work here, you’d be hard pressed to recognize them as the same singer. The soft changes in tonality, the improved pitch and range – it’s all evidence of a musician who has grown into his success. What I mean by this is that his nasal, pitchy beginnings – which worked when he was part of an upstart pop-punk outfit – have steadily been honed with each Yellowcard release until now, where he is at a point capable of launching an entirely acoustic/vocal-centric album in which his inflections and melodies are the clear highlights. It’s been an amazing ride for longtime fans who listened to him evolve year after year; and for newcomers, Key offers a finished-sounding product that is the culmination of decades of growing pains and slow but steady progression.

The final two tracks of the EP especially – but really the whole damn thing – are evidence of Key’s growth, both personally and professionally. It’s hard to listen to the gorgeous harmonies sprawling across the chorus of ‘Thirty Days’ and not think about how much Key has bettered himself as a musician. It’s equally as difficult to delve into the parting lyrics of ‘Great Unknown’ – where Key reflects, “Funny how time doesn't mind, who we keep and who we bare to leave behind…Will I ever stop imagining, what if I had done things differently?” – and not be impressed with his ability to take emotions such as nostalgia or regret and state them in such plain but heartfelt terms. I suppose it all goes back to my original diagnosis of Yellowcard – a band by all means average from a technical expertise standpoint – and look at the man at the heart and soul of it all. A guy who’s had more than his share of heartbreak in relationships, who has struggled with the concepts of family and home…a guy no different than you or I, who just happens to be better at expressing it on paper and in song. It’s the kind of average we all relate to, and that is easy to rally behind because it hits so close to home. Now this very average guy, gripping his acoustic guitar more fervently than ever, continues inviting us into his life’s story – begetting a stunning debut EP in the process. For those of us who followed Yellowcard’s career like a movie playing out directly parallel to our own, latching onto every word in the process, Thirteen shows us that every end is but a means to a new beginning. The sound of Yellowcard’s door (amicably) closing for the final time undoubtedly left a void in the hearts of fans...but no door is shut forever when you have a Key.



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user ratings (29)
Chart.
3.7
great
other reviews of this album
DropTune (4.5)
...and he's back!...

JesperL (4)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
May 25th 2018


26969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

Even as a longtime YC fan, I did not expect to like this as much as I did. From the vocals and guitar work to the production, all the down way to the emotion/lyrics, it knocked me off my feet. I couldn't find a soundcloud embed but here's the single:



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwpX1kBA4rw



Digging: Collections Of Colonies Of Bees - HAWAII

JesperL
May 25th 2018


240 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

both the EP and review are beautiful. great unknown is undoubtedly one of my favourite songs of the year

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 25th 2018


26969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

Thank you so much! A few of these qualify as SOTY candidates for me, but I need more time to see which ones age well. Whole album is really something stunning, though. I'm a little surprised although I probably shouldn't be.

3waycrash
May 25th 2018


225 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Happy to see this get some love, especially from you Sowing

Really happy to hear Ryan making new music. I was like you, interested in hearing new music from Ryan going solo, but I was worried if it'd have that same charm. Thankfully it does

There were hints of this more acoustic sound in some Yellowcard's discography, and I'm pretty satisfied with the sound he's developed here. If this is just a taste of what's to come then count me all in

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 25th 2018


26969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

Thanks 3waycrash :-)

This definitely retained that Yellowcard "charm" as you coined it, and perhaps feels even more personal. I know what you mean by the hints that existed, especially on their final album. Leave a Light On and I'm a Wrecking Ball were both pretty nice acoustic ballads, although I have to admit that any of these 5 EP tracks top them both.

Dylan620
May 25th 2018


4096 Comments


Last sentence of this review is brilliant

Digging: Bathory - Blood Fire Death

3waycrash
May 25th 2018


225 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"Last sentence of this review is brilliant"



Agreed



And yeah, I feel like he can really further develop the tone and sound he went with here. It's a nice collection of songs, and I'm interested to see where he takes his future songwriting.

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 25th 2018


26969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

Heh, thanks guys. I was amused by it as well after it sort of just flowed from my mind to the keyboard.

I'm really interested to see where he takes this too, 3way. I like that he started bare-bones because it gives him the option to layer sounds on future albums, or branch out electronically. All I know is that right now, this is perfect.

Green Baron
May 25th 2018


24226 Comments


well that certainly is a Sowing score

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 25th 2018


26969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

Thanks, I made it myself

Ponton
Emeritus
May 26th 2018


6327 Comments


Ill give this is a spin. I had imagined Ryan would continue making music in some way after Yellowcard ended, just as he did during their first hiatus after Paper Walls, though i forgot what that project was called.

It was cool getting to see him perform at the Chester Bennington remembrance concert last year.

Digging: Aquilus - Griseus

Divaman
May 26th 2018


2445 Comments


Thoughtful and nicely written review.

Digging: Loreena McKennitt - Lost Souls

DrGonzo1937
Contributing Reviewer
May 26th 2018


14444 Comments


sweet review sow. so judging by what you describe, if I wasn't all that into yellowcard, would I dig this?

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 26th 2018


26969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

Ponton, you've always had a soft spot for these guys so I think you'll dig. Remember when YC did an all acoustic follow up to WYTTSY? Imagine that but further matured and without the sense of obligation.



Thanks Divaman! Things always have flowed easily for me when it comes to writing about YC/Key.



Thanks to you as well, Gonzo.That's a tough question because for all the shifts and maturations that I sense as a longtime fan, I imagine that someone who's been generally indifferent towards YC might still hear Key's solo stuff as just more of the same. The biggest difference is that this relies solely on acoustic guitars/vocals, even sounding a little bit like Elliott Smith at times with the quickly strummed chords and confessional lyrics. That's about as high of praise I can give this objectively without simply gushing. Check out the track I linked in the top comment; it's very much an accurate representation. If you are intrigued, then I'd totally recommend investing a full listen, since it's only a 5 song EP.

XingKing
May 26th 2018


13336 Comments


I've never been a fan of Yellowcard but this review was so well written that I have to hear this EP now.

Dylan620
May 26th 2018


4096 Comments


I'm a bit curious to spin this despite the fact that "Ocean Avenue" is the only Yellowcard song I've heard in my life

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 26th 2018


26969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

Thank you XingKing, very nice of you to say. If you've never been a fan I'd refer you (and Dylan as well) to my comment directed at Gonzo; this likely won't sound incredibly different to the passive/indifferent YC listener.

sempiturtle
May 26th 2018


1430 Comments


Oh wow is this really that good? I gotta check it

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 26th 2018


26969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

Nothing is ever quite as good as I say according to Sputnik.

But yes, this is very, very good. Better than a lot of his YC material tbqh.

dfevil085
May 26th 2018


1137 Comments


Did not realize this was a thing. I need to check this soon.



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