Pop-punk is a genre that is often dismissed for its earnestness and commercial possibilities. The poppier the punk the more creatively diluted the finished product is perceived to be by its “fans”. Philadelphia’s The Wonder Years are a pioneering pop-punk band that has successfully moved from selling out basement shows to traveling the world championing the genre influencing a new generation to pick up straps and tries their hand at making music. Sister Cities, their newest (2018) album is a pop-punk dissertation on touring, missing home, and finding it on the road. The guys have seemingly discovered and carried the spirit of Philly with them in their most mature effort to date.
The Wonder Years fill the record with lots of big moments in this uncharacteristically quiet record, long gone are the crew calls/gang vocals of its early years, instead we get some by the numbers pop-punk songs that are interspersed with a few bare-bones tracks that really reflect the toll the road has placed on the band’s energy.
That isn’t to say they are low fi at all, title track “Sister Cities” is a great upbeat song that is both commercially appealing and distinctive of their local roots, seemingly spreading Philly’s ethos to the world at large. The hook “I am laying low, a stray dog in the streets, you took me home, we’re sister cities” is close to perfect. In an interview promoting the album, lead singer Dan Campbell shares a story of how the band played an impromptu show in Costa Rica a world away from home and they found “Sister Cities”. Campbell really steps up to the plate tackling almost the entire record single-handedly, this singular vocal replaces the dueling harmonies of records past and signifies a more singular vision that thematically represents the band growing up.
Geography is a reoccurring theme in “Sister Cities” one of my favorite tracks, “Raining in Kyoto” builds up perfectly, and block by block, demonstrates impressive musicality, the song perfectly describes the frustration one must feel thousands of miles away from home on the road, Campbell’s vocal delivery vent a story so vivid and exhausting that the jet lag is almost palpable. The guitar breakdown also bridges the distance, running miles to keep up with the longing and pain in the lyrics. Listen up.
Finally, I want to talk about “Pyramids of Salt” a brooding and awfully poetic song. The chorus “I drew a line in the sand, with these worthless f******* hands” is moving and sung with so much emotion after a slow burn build up that cathartic doesn’t even to begin to describe how much power this song resonates with me.
This whole album is a banger, The Wonder Years are good guys who have been putting out quality music for a while now, Included on the playlist below is a couple of older songs I felt like adding to increase awareness of how great this band is. Of note particularly check out “Cigarettes and Saints”, “Your not Salinger get over it” and also “Melrose Diner”. The Wonder Years is an unapologetic Pop-Punk Band, and I love them. “Sister Cities” is a triumph