Back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the genre known as pop punk dominated both radio airwaves, MTV, and the billboard charts. Never before had the fast-paced music style been so popular among young people, and for the first time ever, punk became a worldwide cultural phenomenon. With pioneers such as New Found Glory and Blink 182, the movement grew exponentially over a very short span of time, eventually hitting its commercial peak in 2002. In the following years, hip-hop began to strongly re-emerge, taking over the mainstream and slowly erasing the traces of pop punk from the public consciousness. Nowadays, the genre only finds limited success on independent labels, being regarded by many critics as nothing but pure nostalgia from a time long gone. Now they might have to revise those statements, because along comes The Wonder Years with their new record and completely re-invents the wheel.
“No Closer to Heaven” may be anchored in the roots of pop punk, but it never lets itself be confined by it. This is evident right from the get-go, as the powerhouse instrumental opener “Brothers &” sets a surprisingly mature and serious tone with its reverb guitars, otherworldly drumming, and bone-chilling choir from heaven. It is anything but your ordinary pop punk tune, and is a clear indicator of the diversity we’re about to delve into. A record that transcends all pre-conceived notions of how it should sound like, branching out in every musical direction as if it was an old oak tree with many years of experience on its back. From hardcore and fast to slow and tender, the disc unfolds like ripples in water, stretching and bending the shape of punk to a whole new degree of raw, unflinching, emotional honesty; something far more intricate, wide-ranging and complex than anything the golden age of pop punk ever had to offer. Something fresh and unique.
There is a real sense of urgency running all the way throughout the album, like someone had something to say, and it had to be now. The lyrics are so detailed and rich in form, you start to wonder if lead singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell just pulled it all out from his personal diary of innermost thoughts and feelings. It makes my body shiver and shake, just thinking about how harrowingly intimate all these songs are, dealing with themes such as grief, personal faith, and the desire to be as naked and straight-forward as you can possibly be. It radiates profound wisdom, not shying away from harsh reality, but always maintaining the hope that things will get better eventually. Not often does a band have the guts to make such bold and ambitious statements, and that only makes you pay so much more attention to what the music is actually saying. It’s captivating in ways that words simply cannot describe or analyse. I wouldn’t even dare trying. All I can do is listen and feel. Sometimes that’s more important than fully understanding every bit of the puzzle. These song were meant for you to make them your own. For you to give them meaning, instead of the opposite. The beauty between the lines, I suppose.
Not a single track on here is expendable. It all matters. Every note, every word, every beat. The songwriting is so free-flowing and immediate, yet as a whole it totally makes sense why they chose these particular pieces to go together. The vocals can be so quiet and calm, like on the title track, and other times so visceral and longing, like on the devastating but beautiful tear-jerker “Cigarettes & Saints”. It would be pointless to talk about the technical aspect of “No Closer to Heaven”, because that’s not really what it’s about. Although I can safely say this is some of the most densely layered and skilfully executed material these guys have ever produced. It’s a roller-coaster of emotional turmoil from start to finish, rising above conventions and delivering unfiltered artistic expression. The frontman himself has mentioned how they only put out an album if they truly believe it’s better than the one that came before it. In that case, The Wonder Years have succeeded with bravura, crafting not just one of the best releases of 2015, but also what is sure to be a seminal landmark of pop punk and rock. I dare you not to well up at least ones.