The Wonder Years

No Closer To Heaven

Written by: TL on 09/09/2015 19:32:48

It's been quite an evolution for Philadelphia pop-punks The Wonder Years: From bursting onto the scene as pun-happy jokesters with 2007's "Get Stoked On It!", to spending the following six years on an album trilogy on a much deeper emotional level, the sixtet have risen to a position as the astronauts of the genre. The best and brightest, who have taken pop-punk to places noone else can seemingly go, taking the genre's trademarks of sentimental-yet-catchy melody and breakneck energy and imbuing them with lyrical depth and narrative coherency that to this day continue to set them in a whole different class from their growing flock of imitators.

With 2013's "Greatest Generation" closing the chapter on the mentioned trilogy, though, it makes sense that the new "No Closer To Heaven" marks a new era in the band's career. You can hear it in how singer and lyricist Dan "Soupy" Campbell increasingly connects the intimate experiences that we're used to him sharing, with more widely applicable lamentations on the society that surrounds him - And you can hear it in how the band's sound is starting to cross over and out of pop-punk's strictly defined tempos and atmospheres, with highlights of the new record sounding more like the rollicking, escalating emotional purgings of last year's critically acclaimed Hotelier record "Home, Like No Place Is There".

In simple terms, The Wonder Years now rely increasingly on slower tempos, mellower passages and more surging climaxes. "Cigarettes & Saints" is a prime example, piling up captivating line upon captivating line until arriving at a huge combination of instrumental crescendo and desperate protest lyrics. The track couples with "Stained Glass Ceilings" as the album's two defining moments, the latter arguably delivering the impact moment of the year when letlive's Jason Butler comes in and lends his harrowing vocals to the grandest instrumental part The Wonder Years have ever recorded. The desperation he is able to throw on top of Soupy's simply takes the song to a different level, as does the scratchy melody and mixed up rhythm of his part, which simply erupts and sputters with a sense of malcontent that etches itself into your consciousness on the very first listen.

While these two songs figure as milestones for how far the band has build itself out of pop-punk and into a more anthemic, confessional emo-rock, it is not, however, the case that existing fans are left entirely behind. The album delivers another strong moment in "I Don't Like Who I Was Then", which moves at a more familiar, upbeat pace, and although the lyrical hook of "If I can manage not to fuck this up, I think enough is enough!" is hardly Soupy's most inventive writing, the following "You had me walking in circles, you were a shot in the dark" steers things back on the more poetic track, while the song also benefits greatly from bits of hyperactive guitar melodies being played in the back. "The Bluest Things On Earth" and "Thanks For The Ride" also move fast enough, while striking gold with leaping choruses that really top off the songs.

The album should prove a smooth enough transition then, offering both such songs alongside the likes of "Cardinals", which opens the record with exactly the kind of waltz-happy movement that invokes that Hotelier reference from earlier. Moreover, "No Closer To Heaven" is a fine record in an isolated sense, with at least nine of the thirteen tracks on offer giving you something distinct to latch onto individually. If you want to get critical, however, Soupy, who professed to suffering from a severe writer's block while working towards this album, has some patches where the lyrics suffer from a crypticness that feels a bit unusual for a someone who has otherwise been so constantly relateable and evocative in his lines. Then there's the persistent fact that the band is not a group that puts emphasis on instrumental signatures. The songs have lush instrumental backdrops, but similarly to another narrative-driven band like for instance The Smith Street Band, your memory of a separate track lives and dies with how well Soupy's hooks are set up. The album also has a few moments where it feels a bit disjointed, like the songs that face up desperately with the mercilessness of society at large, fit a bit awkwardly with the more down-to-earth, personal numbers, such as "You In January".

Moving towards a conclusion, what is important is that The Wonder Years have once again outdone themselves songwriting-wise, delivering tracks here that raise the bar for what they can do. Still, compared to the aforementioned Hotelier record, or even to The Wonder Years' own "Suburbia, I've Given You Everything And Now I'm Nothing", "No Closer To Heaven" lacks a bit of flow and coherency. It is not exactly surprising, as the band has likely wanted to pursue ideas more freely as they turned over a new page with this session, but it breaks the listening experience up a bit all the same. Really, though, these remain the kind of technicalities that are only good for splitting hairs. What you need to know is that this is another hugely worthwhile record, and another step forward from one of the best bands around these years.

Download: Stained Glass Ceiling, Cigarettes & Saints, Cardinals
For The Fans Of: The Hotelier, Stickup Kid, The Smith Street Band, Set Your Goals
Listen: facebook.com/thewonderyearsband

Release date 04.09.2015
Hopeless Records

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