Lift A Sail

Written by: TL on 07/10/2014 17:31:26

Having set a high mark for the pop-punk genre at large with 2003's seminal "Ocean Avenue", violin-sporting Florida group Yellowcard attempted to capitalise on their momentum by basically subtracting the punk element from their winning pop-punk/pop-rock formula, resulting in 2006's "Lights And Sounds" album which - despite being perhaps the band's most promoted album - is mostly forgotten except by those who incidentally found out about the band via it. It marked the start of an uncertain time for the band, which eventually resulted in an indefinite hiatus after 2007's "Paper Walls", yet it seemed the band had caught a second wind when they returned with 2011's "When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes" and 2012's "Southern Air".

This all brings us to the present, in which drummer and founding member Longineu Parsons III has left the band to be replaced with former Anberlin sticksman Nate Young. And with the band signing to Razor & Tie and declaring that "there will be no fast songs" on ninth album "Lift A Sail", it's hard not to wonder if the band isn't primed to repeat the mistakes of "Lights And Sounds". On one hand the band has proven that it can write the more mid-paced anthemic rock songs in hits like "Only One" and "Gifts And Curses", but most fans will likely agree that without the contrast of the faster songs like "Five Becomes Four", "For You, And Your Denial" or "Twentythree", the slower output has been hit and miss, particularly so whenever violinist Sean Mackin has been retired to more of a backing role instead of exchanging leads with the guitars.

Despite opening with a distinct, cinematic violin intro in form of "Convocation" then, the lofty, mid-paced anthemics of "Transmission Home" and "Crash The Gates" are decently catchy, but at the same time singer/guitarist Ryan Key, whose sentimentality has always veered back and forth between Jimmy Eat World-like, relateable romanticism and more garden variety American banality, finds himself singing amidst arrangements that sound a bit like super-sized varieties of the latter. That "Make Me So" then sounds like an Angels And Airwaves song, being every bit as moderately uninspiring, only seems to make a disappointing sort of sense, especially as you wonder "Where is Mackin? Has he been on vacation?". Outside of the intro, the charming violinist is nowhere to be heard on the first half of the album, and although Key and fellow guitarist Ryan Mendez have brief flashes of perhaps the band's hardest ever guitarwork on "Make Me So" and the solo of "One Bedroom", it feels like Yellowcard is playing with only half its personality and hence sound all the more average for it.

What has made Yellowcard great in the past is that they've known the ins and out of poppy songwriting and imbued that with enough pop-punk energy and flashy violin shenanigans to sweep you along. Long stretches of "Lift A Sail" are much too "by the books uplifing rock" to be very engaging musically though, and neither the electronic touches, nor the Mackin sighting in "Fragile And Dear" get the ship righted. There's more life then, in "Illuminate" which has a more dramatic compositional structure, and in "The Deepest Well", which jumps out of the pack with a muscular start and a guest vocal performance from Memphis May Fire's Matty Mullins. The yearning "Lift A Sail" also makes a case for redemption, with by far the best hook melody on a record that should have had much more of the same.

With the flashes of potential thus restricted to the third of the album's four quarters though, you can't recognise Yellowcard's overall expertise without also feeling disappointment with how typical their resolution is on here. You wonder if Key has been understandably distracted, given his recent marriage and the tragic accident of his wife (who broke her back while snowboarding), but even if there's something to appreciate in his attempts to find the bright sides, that doesn't seem to have carried over from the lyrics - And as always it's harder to actually take interest in the lyrics during the substantial stretches where the music lacks significant edge and energy. It's a good question then, whether it's because Key needs to blind out darker contrasts in this tough time, or if it's rather due to Mackin's lacking presence or the band's continuing inconsistency when trying to figure out what to do when not playing fast - Regardless, the conclusion is one of ambivalence: "Lift A Sail" is a solid product with a few noteworthy songs, but is simultaneously the least interesting record of Yellowcard's second era.


Download: Lift A Sail, The Deepest Well, Illuminate, Transmission Home
For The Fans Of: Angels And Airwaves, The Dangerous Summer, Jimmy Eat World

Release date 07.10.2014
Razor & Tie Records

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