Review Summary: Sowing's reviews put me in my feelings again and this spur of the moment tirade is the end result.
With the pandemic rolling on, and my 24th birthday coming up in May, the brevity of life and my own personal mortality have taken a liking to staring me in the face. I'm probably a quarter century too early for any type of existential mid life crisis, but here we are. Times like this seem just to naturally heighten my emotions and anxieties. I see reports that enough vaccines for the entire country are in hand, followed swiftly by warnings of newer, more dangerous COVID variants. You couldn't pay me to spew any kind of Qanonsense or pretend all of this is fake, but I won't shy away from asking; when can we get back to life, man?
It would be selfish to try and do so when it's not safe for everyone else, so I'll wait it out and be patient. But that vivid reminder that I'm here for a good time, not a long time still beckons my weary mind. So, I seek solace in black and whites of days gone by. And what better to do that than with Yellowcard's midsummer classic Ocean Avenue
In reality, the more somber tone of 2006's Lights and Sounds
is definitely better suited for the time we're in. The pandemic is but a backdrop to an already contentious sociopolitical climate. But I guess the serial and sometimes misguided optimist in me never falters. Warmer weather is approaching, but with it comes potentially a second straight summer without its usual hallmarks to define it. It won't be "normal", as if our world ever even flirted with such an illusion. But it would be nice to travel and let a balmy sun guide me while the Jacksonville-based five piece provides the soundtrack. "Way away, away from here I'll be", I sing along to myself now, as the daydream subsides and I realize I'm still smashing incoherent dribble into my keyboard. Ocean Avenue
still holds up almost two decades later because its sound is timeless. Those blistering guitars can make you drift, even if you're hanging on Ryan Key's every word.
Of course, "Breathing" is as poignant as ever, that crunchy combo of guitars and violins, respectively, still reminds me of the lovelorn romanticist I used to know, while the iconic title track hits different today. "If I could find you now, things would get better," the familiar refrain plays. The enduring beauty of Yellowcard's music is that the lyrics are nominally open-ended. Most of us speculate that Ryan Key was trying to find the words for a breakup, but any vice in your life will do the trick. For me, and I'm sure for most of us right now, it's a feeling of security, familiarity and finality to this bleak chapter in time that is tactfully eluding us, and "Ocean Avenue" as a result suddenly becomes thematically tense as it is nostalgic.
"Empty Apartment" is another number that's grown and aged like a fine wine. It used to be a goodbye, sprawled roughly midway through an album that was largely a beginning for Yellowcard. While it was their fourth album in total, it's their breakthrough outing and has long served as the sole reason for their name recognition today. But now when Ryan sings "you forget where the heart is," I'm reminded to remain mindful of how precious all of this really is, in the midst of isolation. "Believe" is a kind of lyrical galvanizer only a truly effective playwright like Ryan Key, even back then, could sell to the listener. There's thirteen years of better songwriting to be found in the Yellowcard canon, but this one never lost its luster. Ryan was only my age when he wrote it, and it still embodies a sort of innocence and wisdom beyond his years that while evident in its simplicity, is just as strong in its shock to the system. "Only One" is still rocksolid, too. COVID put to bed any short term prospects for this single guy's happily ever after (if such a thing exists), and once again I find myself transported back to the moments these words used to find me in.
As the album continues, there's a comfort to knowing what's gonna come next is. When "Inside Out"'s shimmery guitars get going, I can still envision myself in the crowd jumping along, had I known the band prior to their split. The band's angst and naivety remains an elemental thread of the soundscape, but next thing you know, you're staring down the barrel of your old friend, "One Year, Six Months." I used to come here after a romantic pursuit didn't work out and imagined what eighteen months down the road would look like for both parties. But today, I'm happy to report that I've long embraced the terms of not only what happened, but what follows. I don't look back on those days with regret, or hang on to any disillusioned, fictitious timeline where everything works out. But I'd be lying if I said these words didn't leave me pondering back, albeit from an emotionally detached distance.
Finally, "Back Home" is the dying spasm of Ryan Key's initial heartbreak, laying the groundwork for brighter days, and the band's creative magnum opuses. Still lingering for any remote semblance of normality, I admit I get somewhat apprehensive when Ryan sings "what you love is ripped away before you get a chance to feel it." Thanks a lot, Ryan, you sly son of a bitch. You can count on me to not take things for granted the next time a bunch of Charmin bears raid the toilet paper aisle.
Jokes and hyperbole aside, Ocean Avenue
is far from Yellowcard's best offering. Their 2007-2012 stretch is untouchable and every release in that time is interchangeably superior. But the visceral connection this one forges with the listener, no matter how many subsequent listens later you find yourself, can't be overstated. This album used to be nothing more than a seminal pop punk album that documented Ryan Key's real time bout with the five stages of grief. Now it's an almost cryptic cautionary tale about simpler times, which I'm sure we all wish we could have back. I won't punch the wind and pretend my frustrations will bring those days back. All I can do is forge ahead, let that flicker of a flame inside me continue to burn, and hope against hope that this tragic period of time will eventually end. Thankfully, I have the unwavering optimism of Yellowcard to lean on and see me through.