Despite the ease with which we can communicate today, the distance between one another feels bigger than it actually is. On ‘Sister Cities’, The Wonder Years aim to remind us of that. The Philadelphia sextet have built a career on writing heartfelt modern pop-punk anthems. Yet with every passing record, TWY have grown further away from the typical genre tropes. Nevertheless, ‘Sister Cities’ is their most expansive and refined work to date.
Throughout, the band’s travels weave in and out of the record’s lyrical spine. Campbell’s tales of absent loved ones (see ‘Raining in Kyoto’), both past and present, shapes ‘Sister Cities’ into a lyrically absorbing record.
With such a deep, thought-provoking set of songs, TWY stylistically continue to grow with a handful of layered, sombre songs. ‘Flowers Where Your Face Should Be’ gently treads along a swooning romantic tone. ‘We Look Like Lightning’ ominously opens with electronic drums and Campbell’s repetition of “What Song Do You Wanna Die To?” complimenting the torpid, mournful instrumentation.
‘Sister Cities’ isn’t a complete stylistic 180° for TWY as songs such as ‘Heavens Gate (Sad & Sober)’, ‘The Ghosts of Right Now’ and ‘The Orange Grove’ are delivered with urgency and a sense of familiarity for longtime fans. Whereas ‘It Must Get Lonely’ opens with earthly bounce before Campbell emphatically speaks to someone who refuses to change their ways.
However, the best moment comes in the form of ‘The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me’. A compelling, heart-aching finale, it captures Campbell at his most exposed. Gradually building over the course of six minutes, reverb guitars, thick sparse drums and cathartic keys compliment his remorseful words. The pay off comes as he admits “I miss everyone at once, but most of all, I miss the ocean.”
The absence of loved ones has hugely affected Campbell and company, yet it has allowed them to grow as songwriters and as musicians with startling results. ‘Sister Cities’ may not be on par with admired previous outings, yet it has set the benchmark for an increasingly special band.
‘Sister Cities’ by The Wonder Years is released on 6th April on Hopeless Records.
Words by Sêan Reid (@SeanReid86)