Review Summary: An interesting and pleasant, if mildly inessential addition to the Yellowcard canon.
The only thing more unexpected than Yellowcard reforming has been the especially warm response to it. Following a six-year hiatus, the band embarked on a twentieth anniversary tour for their landmark album Ocean Avenue
and promptly began thrilling the largest crowds they'd ever
played for. Selling out the House of Blues is easy, but giant amphitheaters that can house several thousand people? And they did that all summer long
, while at the same time treating fans to the enthralling 5-track EP Childhood Eyes
. For a band whose personal and professional relationships had gone sour in years past, seeing them not only back together but also thriving is too awesome to put into words. Even violinist Sean Mackin opines that this is "the best version of Yellowcard." Half a year out from Childhood Eyes
and the pop-punk legends are maintaining their seemingly breakneck pace, this time by way of a new collaborative album, A Hopeful Sign
Lead singer Ryan Key began working with ambient post-rock group Hammock in 2020, in the medial portion of Yellowcard's disbandment, with the intention of revamping some of the band's past material into spacey, lo-fi pieces. Key describes the endeavor, now with the band in tow, as a "second lease" on their musical life. It's certainly an interesting and natural way for the band to experiment at this stage of their career. The end result is that the blistering instrumentals that helped make these songs highlights on their respective albums have been jettisoned for a sort of languid dream pop soundscape. Despite the inclusion of "Only One", one of the band's biggest hits, Key is no longer "screaming his lungs out." Here, his voice intones in a quaint and almost nonpresent way, as if he's a ghost reaching out to an old friend who hasn't yet joined him on the other side. This dynamic would hit a lot
harder emotionally if this was a solo project with the band still split up, but it certainly still works as a stylistic inversion of what Yellowcard is known for.
This new approach works best on cuts like "A Place We Set Afire" from the group's 2016 eponymous farewell. The chilled-out and almost physically distant vibe serves the message of the original song well; "Place" is all about not getting "lost in time", and is performed best by Key at this tenured juncture of his life. Another welcome addition is the Paper Walls
standout "You And Me And One Spotlight," which is perhaps the most percussive and instrumentally involved moment here. Though Key largely replicates the progressions of the original in terms of how he sings, this retooled effort helps to recapture the grandeur and finality that made the original so special, thanks in part to its pretty and glistening back half. Elsewhere, the ever-ubiquitous "Ocean Avenue" has also been successfully stripped down in a way that emphasizes the song's powerful nostalgic imagery.
A Hopeful Sign
can sometimes sag under the weight of its runtime, though. Every song here is bordering on five or even six minutes in length. The album is best enjoyed if you have the time to sift and pine through it. Another aspect to keep in mind is that these stylistic remakes are mostly one-note affairs. Over the years, Key's voice has matured and improved considerably from the boyish strain found on Ocean Avenue
, which helps this project in its intended goal of cultivating that same emotional connection with the listener when both parties are much older. Even so, however, the album doesn't really take any drastic chances with respect to seriously overhauling or inverting the band's identity. I'm honestly hoping this is just a brief detour for the band to assuage their creative ambitions before pumping out another mainline Yellowcard project, because the Yellowcard of "Sleep in the Snow," "The Takedown" and "Hiding in the Light" is definitely the Yellowcard that excites the f*ck out of me the most.
A Hopeful Sign
is an interesting and pleasant, if mildly inessential addition to the Yellowcard canon.