Review Summary: Head above water.The Upsides
through The Greatest Generation
is commonly known as The Wonder Years' Depression Trilogy. It was an odyssey that took us from snotty, reference-heavy pop-punk to a mature and thoughtful band trying to process the weight of the world via the geographical and emotional landmarks Dan Campbell dotted throughout his lyrics, his voice ageing in realtime alongside his songwriting from a nasally whine to a more textured, dynamic force. It's not a stretch to view the subsequent three albums as another linked cycle: it's an interpretation suggested by the title The Hum Goes on Forever
, stemming from a poem included in the Sister Cities
booklet, and the presence thereon of a sequel song to No Closer to Heaven
's "Cardinals". Call it the Head Above Water Trilogy: for as dark as Dan Campbell's writing can still be, I can't escape the impression that he's finally clawing towards the light instead of away from it. Much like the fictional-yet-painfully-real Aaron West character he created, Campbell has found something worth fighting for in the form of family: specifically his children, to whom he dedicates the album and names as the reason he doesn't want the world to end.
That's not to say the journey there isn't replete with those painful moments The Wonder Years have made their bread and better since Suburbia...
became a watershed moment in their discography. The touching "Wyatt's Song (Your Name)" connects the album's main throughline back to one of the most haunting lines from The Greatest Generation
, a moment that will hit like a truck for those longtime fans who've found themselves deeply invested in this story. "Cardinals II" soars even higher with a bridge that ranks among their finest work, as Campbell pushes his voice further than it's ever gone for a moment that might make your heart stop for a second. And the unexpectedly heavy "Songs About Death" sees Campbell cast a critical eye back over the type of lyricist he's become known for - "been writing songs about death too long, I need to stop" - in a self-aware gutpunch that might hint at where the band could go on a following trilogy, should we be lucky enough to hear one.
Moment to moment, The Hum Goes on Forever
features some of The Wonder Years' best and most well-rounded songwriting, but the album as a whole bears the unfortunate scars of an EP-expanded-to-LP project. Production duties are evenly split between the ever-dependable Steve Evetts, boardsmith behind Suburbia...
and The Greatest Generation
, and the ever-unreliable Will Yip, behind some of the best and worst production jobs of the last 10 years. The album's sonic landscape is surprisingly cohesive in spite of this, and blessedly competent compared with Sister Cities
' butchered mix, but there's an unfortunate disconnect in the songwriting which starts to show some cracks. The idea seems to have been to just alternate between a classic pop-punk rager and a stranger cut every song; a model which works up to a point then gets really old about when the lethargic keyboard experiment "Laura & the Beehive" completely saps the momentum out from "Low Tide"'s barnburner ending. It's also hard not to feel like The Wonder Years could write some of these more straightforward songs in their sleep: clear-cut Suburbia...
throwbacks "The Paris of Nowhere" and "Old Friends Like Lost Teeth" have enough energy to tread familiar ground successfully, but you can't say the same about the ironically self-doubting "Lost in the Lights", and the glossy mix is enough to make you occasionally yearn for the rougher edges and imperfect takes of that young band fronted by a dude we called Soupy for some reason.
"Even when it's not constantly in my face, there's always a low hum of sadness, a low rumbling of ennui", Campbell says by way of explaining the album title. "So The Hum Goes on Forever
is the understanding that I'm always going to have it, it's always going to be there, it's always been there for literal generations of my family and it's important that I accept that and live and work through it." Maybe that's the best summation of this album as a whole, the sound of a man confronting the devils in his bloodstream. It may be flawed and an uneven listen, but The Hum Goes on Forever
is another gripping entry in The Wonder Years' canon in spite of that - perhaps another defining moment, where they finally keep their heads above water long enough to see the sunrise.