Review Summary: I know I've got my problems and it's probably me
It’s very hard to stand out in pop punk, and few bands know this as much as Mayday Parade; a group that has both been able to break the monotony of much of the genre and fall back into it as easily. 2007’s A Lesson in Romantics became a pillar of the genre due to the bands knack for writing a hook and the perfect chemistry between key songwriters Derek Sanders and Jason Lancaster. But when Lancaster left the band shortly afterwards, it raised speculation if that magic could be recaptured with just Derek. And Anywhere But Here increased that speculation even more. A salvageable but bland effort that sucked out everything that made the band stand out and replaced it with generic mid tempo radio rock sound alikes that at best turned them into another All Time Low. This cycle of great album/mediocre album would repeat again, as proven by their stellar self titled album and it’s half baked follow up Monsters in the Closet, a messy album that despite it’s handful of gems (notably the closing two songs) had just as many head scratching ones.
2015’s Black Lines showed the band finally start to experiment with their sound, and the style shift paid off greatly. Taking more from Brand New than from Fall Out Boy, the album showed the band at their most creative, ranging from throat searing barn burners (“One of Them Will Destroy the Other”) to gorgeous atmospheric emo ballads (“Look Up and See Infinity, Look Down and See Nothing”) and everything in between. Despite underselling, the album was warmly received by fans which made them excited to see where the band would take this sound. Perhaps the band would break this formula they seemed to have trapped themselves into and would continue pushing themselves on the follow up. This isn’t what we got however, as Sunnyland is a return to the sound of the ballad driven mid tempo pop rock of their other post-Lancaster albums. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as while sonically Sunnyland is a regression, the songwriting is still of the same quality resulting in an album that will prove a summer staple for pop punk fans around the globe.
There are basically two different types of songs on Sunnyland; the straightforward throwback pop punk anthems and the emotional acoustic ballads. The former typically outshines the latter, as best represented by the opening stretch. “Never Sure” and “It’s Hard to Be Religious When Certain People are Never Incinerated By Lightning Bolts” (yes even the song titles are a throwback) are blasts of Warped Tour nostalgia complete with skyscraper hooks that will be embedded into your brain before your first listen is even finished. While these tracks maintain the most energy, later songs like “If I Were You” and “Looks Red, Tastes Blue” are still among the funnest and catchiest pop punk songs you’ll hear all year, especially “If I Was You” which contains some of the best vocal harmonies the band has done since the self titled album.
The album’s ballads are also stellar more often than not. Lead single “Piece of Your Heart” serves as a marriage of both styles on the album, filtering a nostalgic acoustic ballad through their typical electric instrumentation and it pays off very well for the band. While the acoustic tracks are more hit and miss, those that hit the mark are definite career highlights. “Take My Breath Away” is the best of them, opening with a stunning acoustic riff that dances along with Sanders’s mellow verses. As the song progresses the production starts to benefit the emotional appeal as Sanders’s vocals compliment the strings and timpani perfectly on the track, resulting in a more organic sounding version of a self titled era ballad and one of the most emotional sounding songs the band has done. “Sunnyland” is also a fantastic closer, wrapping up the album on a mournful, nostalgic note. The mellow keys and strings match the open acoustic chords perfectly as they help lift up Derek’s vocals soaring vocals in the chorus. The song also contains one of Derek’s best vocal lines on the whole album, especially in the phenomenal bridge of the track.
Though the album has its lesser moments, such as the meandering album filler “Always Leaving” and the awkward sounding Black Lines lite “Is Nowhere”, but they are few and far between. Sunnyland is a blast of fun and one of the most successful throwbacks to this sound of the year. It’s somewhat disappointing to know that Black Lines just ended up being a one off. But if Sunnyland is anything to go by, they may finally settling into comfort they’ve been searching for since A Lesson in Romantics. And if the music is this good, we may all be better for it.