Released: Sep 4, 2015
Genre: Pop Punk, Alternative Rock
Label: Hopeless Records
Number Of Tracks: 13
After finishing their highly-lauded pop punk concept trilogy, The Wonder Years expand upon their pop punk sound with their fifth album, "No Closer to Heaven."
No Closer To HeavenFeatured review by: UG Team, on september 29, 2015 2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Sound: A band's debut album always plays an important role, no matter how well or unwell it is. For every universally-acclaimed debut album (like Dead Kennedys' "Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables" or The Strokes' "Is This It"), there will always be debut albums that weren't as good, but still an important stepping stone (like Bad Religion's "How Could Hell Be Any Worse?" or Blink-182's "Cheshire Cat"). For Dan Campbell, frontman of The Wonder Years, he all but wishes his band's debut album, "Get Stoked on It!," could be wiped from existence. Considering it a mess, it was likely that unsatisfying debut effort for the band is what took them a while to get back on the horse - luckily, they did, as their follow-up album, 2010's "The Upsides," would do much better, and get them signed to Hopeless Records.
With the next couple of albums, 2011's "Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing" and 2013's "The Greatest Generation," working with "The Upsides" as a three-part concept series about millennial ennui and depression in the assumed societal safe space of suburbia, The Wonder Years made a substantial mark and turned themselves into a household name for pop punk in a relatively short amount of time.
Now that this concept series is complete, Campbell's new initiative is to grow in sound. His solo side project, Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties, let him dabble in indie folk (a fairly common choice for a solo side project), but with The Wonder Years' fifth album, "No Closer to Heaven," that desire to explore more sonic options also appears for the band's pop punk sound. With the album's composition showing a bigger penchant for appreciating the slower and somber moments, melody gets a bigger platform to elaborate upon. Guitars shine the brightest throughout the album, both with better conventional moments (like the lead riffs found throughout "The Bluest Things on Earth" and "I Don't Like Who I Was Then") and more experimental initiatives (like the post-rock guitar tracks in the opening "Brothers &," the hazy tremolo layers in the chorus of "A Song for Patsy Cline," and the dual guitar parts in the morose "Palm Reader"), and the synths play a stronger role as well (heard in the Postal Service-esque melodies in "You in January," and the intertwining synth/guitar melody in "Stained Glass Ceilings" that has a Minus The Bear circa "Planet of Ice" feel to it).
This main theme of somberness in "No Closer to Heaven" also leads to more intriguing songwriting overall. As opposed to the straightforward nature of The Wonder Years' previous albums, where loudness was delivered in either a low, medium or high gear, more gentle sections found throughout the album lead to better utilization of dynamic range (heard in "A Song for Ernest Hemingway") and negative space (heard in "Cigarettes & Saints"). But though this different side of The Wonder Years is the new attraction of the album, they still include plenty of purebred pop punk moments - from the stark "Thanks for the Ride," to "I Wanted So Badly to Be Brave," which feigns a morose intro before dropping into a happy uptempo pop punk rager, The Wonder Years still keep a firm grip on their specialty. // 8
Lyrics: After Campbell dumped out three albums worth of personal experience-fueled lyrics for the previous trilogy concept, he decided to create a fictional concept for "No Closer to Heaven," which has the unnamed main character struggling to cope with the realities and his own conceptions of death. With two of his friends passing away by tragic means ("Cigarettes & Saints" has the main character remembering the funeral of his friend who died of an overdose, while "Stained Glass Ceilings" has him remembering the funeral of his friend who was murdered), the main character writhes in grief over old memories of those friends and seethes in anger about how he wasn't able to save them - the recurring maxim "We're no saviors if we can't save our brothers" repeats as a way of reminding him of his failures.
In this grief, the main character starts to fantasize about and glorify his self-imposed death in the tragedy-baiting "A Song for Patsy Cline" ("My airbag light's been on for weeks / And I keep having dreams / Where I go through the windshield, but I don't fix it") and the suicidal thoughts of "A Song for Ernest Hemingway" ("I'm staring at Hemingway's shotgun"), as a way to both feel like he's in control of some kind of mortality and to see his friends again in the afterlife. But ultimately, he knows that no matter what he thinks about doing, whether for the sake of himself or his friends, the ending titular song has him acknowledging what little power he has in the grand scheme of things ("In a world that I can't fix / With a hammer in my grip / I'm no closer to heaven"). // 8
Overall Impression: With the massive success of The Wonder Years' pop punk trilogy concept, most would continue to stick to the same formula to ride that momentum as far as it can go, even at the risk of growing stale. But in this new phase for their career, "No Closer to Heaven" freshens up The Wonder Years' sound at an optimal time. Not only diversifying their sonic repertoire to go beyond the general output of Taking Back Sunday-influenced pop punk, the more pensive songwriting found throughout the album goes hand in hand with its dominant lyrical theme of grief, further strengthening its cohesiveness. Ultimately, "No Closer to Heaven" is yet another reason why The Wonder Years are one of the more admirable names in pop punk today. // 8
No Closer To Heaven
hfelice3, on september 30, 2015 2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Sound: The Wonder Years have been a band for ten years now. They have released four studio albums as well as enough EPs and splits to make the full length compilation record that was released in 2013. They are identified as one of the pioneers of the modern day pop punk sound and are at the fore-front of the current wave.
This band expands on their melodic pop punk origins more and more with each release. I feel that their last album "The Greatest Generation" was their first album in which every song showed a great deal of musical progress as well as showcasing a specific emotion within each track. But this band continues to blow my mind with what they are able to create while still remaining true to their signature sound.
The guitar riffs are as tight as ever and have some very nice and varied tones to them throughout the entire album. The guitar work by Nick Steinborn, Casey Cavaliere and Matt Brasch has the same great chord progressions and melodic lead layers that we've come to love from The Wonder Years. But this is not the standard idea throughout the whole song like it was for the most part on previous records. A perfect example of them drifting away from this is on the song "Cigarettes & Saints" where the layers for the first three minutes are pleasing leads with a gentle rhythm in perfect accompaniment.
The drum work on this album is ridiculous. I just don't understand how Mike Kennedy does what he does while setting just the right pace and placing unique fills and cymbal hits exactly where they need to be. He is definitely one of the best pop punk drummers out there right now.
But we can't forget about the jazz trained bass man Josh Martin. As usual he does an excellent job at holding down the low end throughout. He really steps up to the plate during build ups and verses where the drums and guitar clearly don't have enough foundation to make it on there own.
One of my favorite things that they use sparingly on this album is the chorus vocals that show up on songs. The Wonder Years have used these many times in the past but they sound much more organized and on pitch then they did in the past. In "A Song for Ernest Hemingway" the band has a choir sing us into the more punk-rock influenced tune. In "A Song for Patsy Cline" they show up to add character to a heavy guitar riff after the first chorus. And in "I Wanted So Badly to Brave" there are some very catchy woah ohs over a a very happy jam that really make you want to sing along. // 9
Lyrics: I am going to quote singer/lyricist Dan Campbell to get the concept of the album across accurately.
"After completing the trilogy and realizing I'm always going to carry sadness and that's okay, I set out to try to be part of the solution to the problems. And very quickly I learned how much I had to learn." ... "I started calling the eventual goal 'Heaven,' and that's got no Judeo-Christian overtones to it. It's just a word; call it what you want. I'm not even using it as a physical place. It's an understanding. It's when the problem is solved once and for all. And then I realized we're probably never going to get there. Not for anything. And that's okay! What matters is we're working on it. The more you learn about something-it could be anything-the more you realize is left to learn... The more you learn, the more you learn you're just scratching the surface."
As far as individual tracks go, well, we have a lot to talk about. "Cigarettes & Saints" is probably the best example of Dan's lyrics showing a great deal of maturity and the band as a whole taking a much more progressive take on ballad. This is a song that will leave you in tears as you listen to him discuss his mournings of a friend and how he thinks the drug industry is ultimately the one to blame for his friends overdose. I have never heard a song that made feel at one with the musicians more and it is by far my favorite song on the album.
"Stained Glass Ceilings" is the only other song on the album that can really compare to its emotional drive and progressive sound with Jason Butler delivering some more harsh vocals and lyrics about a faulty society, racism and classism. Both are around five minutes long with more then enough beautiful music to keep your attention throughout.
But lets talk about some of the songs that represent The Wonder Years earlier days a little more. "I Don't Like Who I Was Then" is probably their most positive song to date where Soupy talks about doing everything in his power to recognize his mistakes and become a better person from it. A very honest self reflective verse from it is "Hidden in the tall grass in the naked light of day, I put my past-self in the ground. I've been dancing on the grave. I'm not the person that I was then. I'm tearing him away. I was bitter. I was careless. I was nineteen and afraid."
I never thought I would say that a love song had really deep original lyrics until I heard the cheerfully depressing song "You in January" with poetic lines like "Goddamn, you look holy hit from behind with light. You're a painting of a saint." and "You were the one thing I got right." This song recites specific memories about Dan and his girlfriend while letting us all know how much he "hates leaving" for tour because of how much he loves and misses her. // 9
Overall Impression: One major improvement that they have almost perfected since their last album is the overall structure of the songs. They know exactly which songs to have three choruses in and which songs to not have any at all. They know when there should be more subtle moments, when there should be a quick transition before jumping into a more quirky section and when they should extend the length of a part to build emotion and really help the listener grasp what The Wonder Years are feeling. Some other favorites of mine that I did not mention are "Palm Reader" and "The Bluest Things on Earth."
To wrap it up, I definitely love the more prog-rock influence that this album has scattered all across its thirteen tracks. However, I am still a little iffy about the bookends of this album: "Brothers &" and "No Closer to Heaven." "Brothers &" just doesn't flow into "Cardinals" as well as it should. While "No Closer to Heaven" is a simple acoustic song that tries to tell you the theme of the album in two minutes and simply does not compare to the seven minute epic closer off "The Greatest Generation," "I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral." // 8