Yellowcard is one of those bands that many don’t realize are still around, having flown under the radar since their breakout albums Ocean Avenue and Lights & Sounds. But they’ve kept chugging along, minus a short hiatus in between their sixth and seventh albums. Lift a Sail marks the band’s ninth album, and seventh with vocalist Ryan Key. Yellowcard has been known for a straightforward pop-punk style, with a classical tinge added their violinist Sean Mackin.
However, in interviews the band described Lift a Sail as a slight change in sound, with more of a rock sound than a pop-punk one. This shift in style probably has something to do with the fact that it was born out of many tragic events. Key got married in a hospital room where his wife, Russian snowboarder Alyona Alekhina, had suffered a traumatic spinal injury that left her in a wheelchair. Mackin has also been battling thyroid cancer for the last two years.
The shift toward a more rock-influenced sound is apparent pretty early on in the album. It opens with a beautiful legato violin instrumental called “Convocation,” that leads right into “Transmission Home,” which starts with a booming drum sound that is hinted at in the first track and can be heard in different forms throughout the record. The vocals have many more studio effects on them than usual, and the guitar sound is just a bit more subtle than fans are used to hearing from Yellowcard. They also incorporate guitar solos into some of their songs, which they never used to do before (this is most clearly heard in the first single, “One Bedroom”).
The rockier style continues through the next few tracks, until “Illuminate,” which should be much more familiar to fans of their earlier albums, with much more of a straightforward, driving style. This is also on display in “The Deepest Well,” which features guest vocals from Matty Mullins of Memphis May Fire (who Key pretty well outshines in the singing department). “My Mountain” also features a riff that could easily have fit in on Yellowcard’s last two albums.
There are even parts on this album where the band gets a little experimental (for them), which gives it even more depth and makes it more interesting. “California” and “Transmission Home” incorporate a piano to great effect. The piano helps the former song traverse the emotional depth of Key’s wife’s accident, as she dreams of returning to her favorite state. Many songs on this album appear to be inspired by that, such as “One Bedroom” and “My Mountain,” where Key talks about how he’ll always love her and how they’ll build a life together after she gets better. Lift a Sail’s lyrical honesty is the main reason this album still sounds like Yellowcard, despite all the experiments and journeys into other territory.
All of this comes together to make this the most cohesive and sonically interesting album that Yellowcard has ever made. I think it will appeal both to longtime fans, and fans that are picking them up for the first time. While the album works as a whole, it has several songs that stand out very well on their own, including “Crash the Gates,” “Transmission Home,” and “Make Me So.” The former song is interesting in that the bass and drums drive it more than the guitar and vocals, which can be heard on other tracks and is another of their interesting experiments. The band also constantly changes textures in their songs, but makes sure to do so in ways that make sense, and serve to keep the listener’s attention rather than jarring the ears.
Adding another layer to this onion of an album, several tracks have more of a stripped-down style, such as “Madrid” and “California.” “Madrid” is especially interesting because it starts out with only Key’s vocals and clean guitar tone to start. Many rock or punk songs that start like this tend to lurch into an electric party halfway through, but this song largely ends as it started, with only Mackin’s violin providing extra support. I think that helps make the song more interesting. But even when they do go from acoustic to rock, it works well. The lead single, “One Bedroom,” features a bouncy drum-driven acoustic guitar feel that is probably the poppiest/most danceable song I’ve ever heard them make. Then it transitions into this awesome rock anthem that makes it sound like they’re lifting their song to the sky.
In short, Lift a Sail furthers my belief that Yellowcard is more or less incapable of making a bad record, and you should buy it and add it to your collection. I’m having trouble coming up with only three track picks, but here’s my best effort at it:
“Crash the Gates”
“Make Me So”