For the most part what keeps a band exciting is the ability to strive for change and creative growth. Although there’s always been a very fine line between experimentation and what feels like “abandoning” your core audience, when done right it’s what turns good bands into great bands. Now with their sixth studio album Sister Cities, The Wonder Years have cemented themselves than more than just the Philly pop-punkers everyone first came to know them as. What previously always felt like hometown-driven albums has now transformed into a broader world view – speaking of Chile, English streets or Montmartre in Paris.
Showcasing the band’s heavier side, brash album opener ‘Raining in Kyoto’ begins slightly unannounced, kicking straight in without hesitation. There is one thing that quickly becomes clear as the album progresses – it doesn’t really have the patterns we’ve become accustomed to in a record. The first track doesn’t feel too introductory, and there is no forced effort to seamlessly roll every song into one another. Refreshingly, it’s a record in which all the tracks seem like they would be able to hold up on their own.
One prominent aspect of Sister Cities that we haven’t quite seen as much on the band’s earlier records is its instrumental interludes. The band’s core has always been its hard-hitting choruses, and while these are still a big part of who they are (the massive sing along moments are still scattered across the record), it seems to be less of a focus. There is a lot of build up created by intense instrumentation, and it truly does go a long way. In itself, it’s what helps make those big choruses even more poignant. The atmospheric ‘We Look Like Lightning‘ is a great example of this.
Frontman Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell’s voice has also really developed on this record – the complexity of the tracks have allowed him to showcase a richer palette. In some cases when it’s taking centre stage, it even feels sort of theatrical. A track where this particularly stands out is the beautiful and delicate ‘Flowers Where Your Face Should Be’, where the melancholia in Campbell’s voice perfectly complements the poetic lyrics.
The album comes to a close with ‘The Ocean Grew Hands To Hold Me’, which is just the climactic ending the record needed. At six minutes long, it encompasses the different landscapes of sound we’ve been experiencing throughout. In many ways, Sister Cities does a great job of picking up where their previous album No Closer To Heaven left off, feeling like the natural leap the band needed to take. Where album five showed the direction they wanted to go in, this record took them there.