Growing up in our generation, it was almost impossible to not have heard the song “Ocean Avenue” over and over again until it was recognizable just by its few opening chords.
Well, nine years, three albums, and one hiatus since Yellowcard’s breakout track and album of the same name, we get their eighth studio album, “Southern Air.”
I’ll cut to the chase quickly. This is a good album, and, after many listens, possibly even Yellowcard’s best. So fans of Yellowcard, take heart.
But what makes this album unique is that there might be something to enjoy here for even those who aren’t overly fond of the violin-toting, pop-punk rockers.
For starters, the album is heavier than any of its predecessors. However, it does this without sacrificing the violin; it keeps the classical instrument at the heart of the band’s sound and weaves it in and around their pop-punk sound more smoothly than on any of the band’s previous releases.
A perfect example is the standout track “Rivertown Blues.” The song starts by combining a driving guitar riff with a fast-paced violin melody, only to quickly mellow out the violin and allow percussionist Longineu W. Parsons III’s rapid drumming to take over. Ryan Key’s vocals are as earnest as ever as he croons over the brilliantly layered violin and more traditional rock instruments. However, it’s the guitar solo in the latter half of the song that really grabs the listener. The intricate 25-second solo flies along at a breakneck pace, showing off a side of Yellowcard that I — as a longtime fan — have never heard.
And these moments are not few and far between. The whole album is more aggressive and daring than we’ve come to expect from the Floridian rockers. There’s a newfound and potent urgency in the violin throughout the call-to-arms track “Surface of the Sun,” an ability to instantaneously flip from anger to calm in seconds during the bittersweet “Sleep in the Snow,” and a bite and sharpness to their riffs that doesn’t compromise their warm and welcoming sound in title track “Southern Air.”
On top of that, this album reflects an improvement in Yellowcard’s lyrics. The ballad “Ten” tackles the pain of losing a child, a reflection of Key’s own personal experience. Even though this song is possibly the band’s best lyrically, it is certainly their worst musically on the album, breaking the flow of an otherwise consistently paced work.
But Yellowcard hasn’t completely grown out of some of its old, bad habits. “Telescope” is unoriginal and repetitive, with lines like, “My only hope/You’re my telescope,” being sung over and over again. The uplifting “Here I Am Alive” isn’t quite as contrived, but still feels like it was written for radio play. Songs like these are rare, though, and most tracks on the album sound like they genuinely came from the heart.
Overall, “Southern Air” is very much a success. And by releasing two solid albums in quick succession since returning from hiatus — their last album was released in March of 2011, less than a year after they got back together — it’s clear Yellowcard has returned in full-force and then some, like an old friend from childhood who has come back better than before.
And if he wasn’t a friend earlier, people may find themselves giving him a second chance.
Verdict: It’s very much Yellowcard, but complimented with a darker, heavier, and more mature sound.
Reach reporter Nathan Taft at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @NathanTaft
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