Story by Mamie Lomax / Contributing Writer
“Sister Cities” makes it hard to believe that the Philadelphia sextet, The Wonder Years, originated as a pop-punk band. It’s not because this term is awry, but it limits the creative nature that The Wonder Years have established throughout the ten years they’ve been together. “Sister Cities” seems to open up a new chapter in The Wonder Years’ musical journey with experimental song structures and a greater focus on the music as a whole, rather than the frilly approach they have fallen victim to numerous times throughout their careers.
The record opens up with what is seemingly the heaviest song in the band’s discography, “Raining in Kyoto,” with metal-influenced riffs and possibly the most powerful and aggressive vocals that lead singer Dan Campbell has tracked. Although the pop-punk aspect of The Wonder Years isn’t directly present throughout the album, there are songs such as “Heaven’s Gate (Sad and Sober)” and “Ghosts of Right Now’” that feature elements of their past sound and are relatively punishing, falling into a post-hardcore sound. However, there is a stark contrast with songs such as “When the Blue Finally Came” and “Flowers Where Your Face Should Be.” These are the most balladic songs on the record and seem to be the most tender as well.
“Sister Cities” also focuses on emotion more so than ever before. With topics such as life, death and the everyday struggles of a touring band, the record is a rollercoaster of sentiment that brings a considerably vast feeling of maturity to this work. Although some of The Wonder Years’ best work can be found on different records, “Sister Cities” bring the entirety of these elements together, displaying possibly the best record the band has released.
This album seems to usher in a new phase of The Wonder Years’ approach to music, based on the diverse ebb and flow that “Sister Cities” displays throughout. Although there are different song structures that become prominent, The Wonder Years still throw in remnants of their older sounds with a diverse palate that resists against being pigeonholed into a certain genre. The record is full of haunting balladic memories, a bigger focus on the atmospheric nature of their music and punchier, rock-influenced melodies. Overall, “Sister Cities” is a high point in the career of The Wonder Years. It strays away from their older work but brings in new and exciting characteristics for an ever-changing group.
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