For awhile now, I’ve thought pop punk was dead. The names that plastered the shirts of Hot Topic’s t-shirt wall grow even more unrecognizable save for the classics, and the music I loved in junior high just doesn’t sound like it used to. Who even played at Warped Tour this summer? Just when I thought the festival had become a low-end dubstep vacuum, I can see one last gleam of light graced the stage: The Wonder Years.
The Wonder Years came to the genre in a time of early height - 2005, when pop punk was expanding from the skate kid stylings of the earlier Blink-182 and into a more earnest, indie kid period. And when the genre began to flicker out, they somehow managed to remain the kind of band that sticks with the pop punk listener now grown up. That's because they've grown up, too. Their latest album, No Closer To Heaven, is the heartening proof of that; the honest, mournful, confessional album beams with emotional maturity and expression while holding on to a classic pop punk sound that doesn’t feel dated. No Closer To Heaven sounds like what I thought pop-punk did when I was 13, as if it aged with me.
No Closer To Heaven stands out most in its passion. It’s an album about loss, covering the depths of feeling one experiences in its wake, mostly anger and frustration. This is the undeniable force of the album - nearly every song ends up building itself into an aggressive, progressive rhythm-fueled rehashing of the band’s struggles. The album is very much pop punk, but emo revival plays a huge part in the sound. While nearly every song builds into pop punk, a majority of the songs begin with a soft, poetic narrative. This forms a dynamic akin to healing, dealing with mourning and frustration the way one is supposed to. “Cigarettes and Saints” and “Stained Glass Ceilings,” featuring Jason Aalon Butler of Letlive demonstrate the greatest feat in emotional/musical range and depth, while songs like “Cardinals” and “A Song For Ernest Hemingway” deliver a memorable classic pop punk sound.
After all that rough energy, the album ends in title track “No Closer To Heaven,” a straight acoustic expression of the hardest part of mourning that in its lightness displays the exhaustive ambition of The Wonder Years on this album. No Closer To Heaven is a display of pop punk’s capacity for salience and an emotional grip on modern music. The music itself falls to the side a bit, instead closing in on that early feeling that pop punk got us to relate to in its lyrical content and moving honesty.