“No Closer To Heaven” expresses dark themes



Nick Miller

Since its 2005 debut as a band, The Wonder Years have been involved in somewhat of an identity crisis. The band has been called pop-punk, emo, rock, post-hardcore–you name it. It even shares its name with a TV series from the ‘90s that claims the top result on a search engine. But make no mistake about it, the six-piece group from Lansdale, Pa. prefer just to think of themselves as musicians.

On Friday, Sept. 4, The Wonder Years released “No Closer to Heaven,” the band’s fifth full-length studio album and first release since its 2013 record “The Greatest Generation,” a loose interpretation of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” and decidedly the group’s first step towards musical genius. Lead singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell, a local North Penn High School graduate, calls the album his “best work to date” according to an interview with Fuse. In fact, according to the same interview, Campbell says, “We just tried to push out in every direction. It’s a little bit softer, it’s a little bit louder, it’s a little bit faster, it’s a little bit slower.”

Touching upon themes of alcoholism, death, depression, religion and writer’s block, The Wonder Years’ dark side is as apparent as ever, showing the band’s obvious maturation as songwriters and musicians since 2007’s “Get Stoked On It!” when Campbell’s gimmicky lyrics revolved around ninjas, boredom, candy and cereal.

The album opens up with a beautiful, anthem-like intro to its first single, “Cardinals,” that was released on June 29 as a teaser for the album. Featuring some angry vocals and a handful of simple guitar riffs, the band kicks “No Closer to Heaven” off with its signature loud and in-your-face sound.

On the album’s third track, “A Song for Patsy Cline,” The Wonder Years perfectly showcase its fixation on death and crisis with an aggressive post-hardcore sound a la Three Days Grace’s “One-X”–a previously unfamiliar sound to the band.

The next in line, “I Don’t Like Who I Was Then,” is a brave and relatable reflection about the band’s past mistakes that sounds eerily similar to the melodies heard on the band’s 2011 album “Suburbia I’ve Given You My All and Now I’m Nothing.”

Perhaps the most evocative and significant song on the album, the band’s next track, “Cigarettes & Saints,” was released on July 31 as the second single—this time with a music video that shows the band’s lead vocalist playing guitar on the track and lead guitarist Matt Brasch playing drums alongside the group’s long-time drummer Mike Kennedy.

A band often noted for citing literary inspirations like Charles Bukowski in song lyrics, The Wonder Years continue the trend with another dedication track called “A Song for Ernest Hemingway.” Interestingly enough, the song is nested right in the middle of the album amongst a trio of jams reminiscent of the band’s older music–proving that Campbell and company have no intentions of abandoning their roots.

A pleasant surprise came in the latter half of the album when Campbell’s scratchy vocal lines featured a seamless transition into a bridge sang by letlive. Vocalist Jason Aalon Butler–reportedly one of Campbell’s closest friends who helped Campbell through his writer’s block this year. Butler’s piercing screams about police brutality and racial discrimination in America lead into Campbell’s call for gun restrictions and his overarching theme of finding heaven.

The first thing I noticed about the album is its stadium-sized feel and clever use of dynamics. The level of production by Steve Evetts (The Cure, The Used, Story of the Year, Senses Fail, The Misfits) was nothing short of a perfect complement to the band’s sound. Unlike a lot of sonically-sub-par punk albums, “No Closer to Heaven” begs to be listened to through the best headphones or speakers you own.

Not surprisingly, The Wonder Years have received early critical acclaim for this album. “No Closer to Heaven” received a 90/100 in the October 2015 issue of Alternative Press, which says The Wonders Years are “as close to flawless [as] they’ve ever been.” The album also received a perfect 100/100 rating by Kerrang!, who called The Wonder Years “the rarest of bands” according to metacritic’s website.

On an ESPN Radio podcast hosted by Daniel Dopp, Campbell said, “what we wanted to do on this record is to expand topically on what we had done before, and so we are still writing hyper personal songs…

But we wanted to find a way to connect those narratives with larger societal issues that kind of act as the umbrella over that story.”

In fact, the band have also initiated a charitable partnership for its listeners that pair seamlessly with its lyrics; for every album pre-ordered, a dollar will be donated to one of four charities that the buyer may pick between, including After-School All-Stars, Futures Without Violence, The Herren Project and Puppies Behind Bars.

In short, “No Closer to Heaven” is a fantastic album that in some respects hopes to transcend genres. I have raved before that 2014 and 2015 have been unprecedented years for great music, and yet this album still stands out for me amongst the crème de la crème of the past two years. Although the post-hardcore movement is still searching for its breakthrough onto the airwaves, watch for this band and album to steal just about every award imaginable at next year’s Alternative Press Music Awards.