For the better part of the last decade, Yellowcard have been one of the more polarizing bands in the punk rock game. After shedding their hardcore punk roots, the band helped lay the framework for the post-Blink 182 period of pop punk history, in effect helping to redefine the genre that inspired them. Depending on your point of view and/or your age bracket (though they tend to be highly correlated in this discussion) you either found that the Yellowcard formula introduced you to a slew of new bands that have become near-and-dear to you, or they turned you off from the pop punk genre entirely.
In this day and age, it’s always a curious move when a band puts out two full-length albums in little more than a year. When the albums do not vary in concept or gimmick, the second of those albums is all-too-frequently composed of reworked cutting room floor material from the recording sessions of the first album. “Southern Air,” due August 14th on Hopeless Records, comes on the heels of the Jacksonville five-piece’s 2011 post-hiatus release “When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes.” Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot to separate it from its predecessor.
Whatever your opinion of the band and their impact is, “Southern Air” isn’t going to do much to change your mind. The sound is very much, well, Yellowcard. At their best, Yellowcard are a high energy pop rock band, capable of making the sort of polished, uptempo anthems that sound as though they were tailor-made for X Games commercials. Put on “Here I Am Alive” and close your eyes; I defy you to not picture Travis Pastrana double-backflipping on a freestyle motocross track.” “Sleep In the Snow” fits very much in the same footprint. And let’s not forget that “Surface Of The Sun” was actually used in an X Games spot earlier this Summer.
The bulk of “Southern Air” is cut from the same formula, an exercise in redundancy at times. Frontman Ryan Key’s vocals remain heartfelt, as though he has bought in to every emotional line, but the lyrical content comes across stale and, at times, sad from the throat of a thirty-two year-old. Key has been around long enough and experienced enough of the trials and tribulations of life to have outgrown his ninth-grade songbooks; unfortunately the lack of depth in the vocals and the lyrics hasn’t.
“Southern Air” isn’t all-uptempo, all-the-time, however. Buried late in the album, “Ten” is an incredibly sweet ballad, a tender ode to an unborn child that was tragically taken way too soon. “Ten” is the most un-Yellowcard track on the album, which may be what makes the emotion in Kay’s voice so incredibly real. While earlier (and later) tracks evoke images of snowboarders and vert ramps (which is all well and good), “Ten” is a powerful, loving tale; if you’ve got kids (or you’ve lost a child), I defy you to not get misty-eyed listening to this one.
Still, “Ten” isn’t quite enough to save “Southern Air” from being a formulaic, well-produced, modern pop-punk. If you’re a fan of Yellowcard, it should fit nicely into your collection and fill your summer with some great driving anthems. If you’ve long been turned off by Yellowcard and their brand of music, “Southern Air” won’t be the album to make a believer out of you.