|Album Rating: A|
Yellowcard usually begins with the big opener, but "Awakening" brings "big" to a new level. The explosive guitars after the calm opening are a wake up call to whomever had slept on Yellowcard's previous album When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes, and the confidence in every aspect of the song from melodies to instrumentals is staggering. Ryan Key has a newfound energy in his vocals, propelling them to new heights in his range that he had never reached before, and bringing an already strong aspect of the band to a level that dwarfs nearly every one of their peers.
The instrumental arrangements are far more sophisticated throughout this album than on previous albums, primarily in the string department. Violinist Sean Mackin brings his string expertise in full force on Southern Air, arranging underlying strings on parts of half the tracks on the album. The strings aren't just reserved for the customary ballad, as "Surface Of The Sun," possibly the most "rock" song the band has released since the Lights and Sounds era, and the intense pop punk fury of "Rivertown Blues" all contain that extra layer. The strings in "Rivertown" bring moments of serenity between the chaos that is drummer Longineu Parsons' most sweat drenching performance to date and guitarist Ryan Mendez's massive solo. It's right next to "The Takedown" in its aggressiveness, and may have surpassed it as the band's most energetic to date.
Ballad "Telescope" is the most powerfully arranged song on the record, and the strongest part of the arrangement has nothing to do with the instrumental portion. Guest vocals from Alex Gaskarth, Cassadee Pope and Tay Jardine mesh perfectly with Key's voice, showing how carefully the vocalists were picked out and arranged in a way that a show choir would be jealous of. The voices assist the emotional effect of the song, which was written about Key's late aunt, and is a far more effective track for the topic than When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes ballad "Sing For Me." But "Ten" is the emotional peak of the album, especially in Key's lyrics. He mourns a lost child by crying "I never got to meet you my best friend," while the string section brings the emotional might out of the acoustic guitars. The twang in the electric guitar adds a southern feel to the album based around Key's Floridian home, adding even more personal touch to this incredibly heartbreaking topic.
Key's only downfall is "A Vicious Kind," where the pitches of the notes just don't flow correctly and leads to some discomfort in some phrases, but even while the chorus feels a tad off, the overall melody is still memorable. But there won't be a melody as catchy as the radio ready "Here I Am Alive," which is sure to be the band's biggest song since breakthrough hit "Ocean Avenue." Written with Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump and supported with female vocals by We Are The In Crowd's Tay Jardine, the song is an unavoidable late summer jam with its bouncy beat, inspiring lyrics, and absolutely massive chorus. In a mainstream environment where fun. and Gotye are the few "alternative" bands to burst into mainstream prominence in 2012, "Here I Am Alive" gives Yellowcard a chance to rejoin the charts in which they used to be a mainstay.
Southern Air isn't anywhere near a reinvention of Yellowcard, but at the same time, it is another enormous breakthrough for the band. This record simply feels different than the band's previous releases. The appeal towards all ends of the band's spectrum is greater, the sound is bigger and the band just feels better at nearly everything in their craft. There are rarely moments where it feels that Yellowcard is doing anything other than their best work, which within their storied history is hard to believe. However, it takes a band of that history and previous prominence to have the devotion and courage to push their music to another level, and Yellowcard has absolutely succeeded in doing so.
Track List:1. Awakening
2. Surface Of The Sun
3. Always Summer
4. Here I Am Alive
5. Sleep In The Snow
6. A Vicious Kind
8. Rivertown Blues
10. Southern Air