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Album Review: William Ryan Key – ‘Thirteen’

There’s a place off Ocean Avenue, you know the one — we were both 18 and it felt so right sleeping all day staying up all night. In Spring 2017, pop punk rockers Yellowcard announced their farewell tour. Tears were shed as the violin shred for the last time on stages all across the world.

Now, a year later, vocalist/guitarist William Ryan Key is releasing a new solo debut EP, Thirteen, out May 25 via Lone Tree Recordings. Key and his fans may no longer be 18 anymore, but after nearly two decades with Yellowcard, the singer-songwriter claims to be home sonically.

“It took a long time to find my own focus and direction after 17 years in a band,” Ryan explains. “However, once I found it, the music felt like coming home. There was a new freedom and creativity that I channeled into each of the songs.”

The EP opens with “Old Friends,” a tale of being gone, distant and being absent from making memories — perhaps an apology/regretful conclusion. This has a tinge of folk sound, no banjo — just rather a deeper focus on the story lines than in traditional guitar-heavy tracks.

And all those birthdays when I just forgot to call / I’m sitting on a mountain of guilt that I’ve finally started chipping away here / Hoping you can try to absolve all the years that I was playing the game / I think I’m turning homeward again and I’m praying you will open the gate /Will you let me in, let me stay?

“Vultures” was the first tune composed from the new release, and certainly doesn’t seem far-fetched to be a product of the former front man. You can almost hear the soaring violin crescendos, and picture the crowd’s clapping echoes in the venue from a typical Yellowcard concert.

You dig holes in your sacred ground / Wait to watch them circling around / But you’re not here on some mission from God / You’re just making up for what you never got / Is it better to have had or to have not?

“Forms and Figures” resembles the melancholy mood of bands like Turnover, or The Wonder Years. The crystal clear vocals take center stage on this one though, no emotional excess of gritty vocals like Have Mercy or Real Friends.

You say it’s too far away / But you’re here / Lending ears as I ramble through the night / Someone’s always haunting the house / Form and figure moving around /Is that you?

“Thirty Days” sounds like a hauntingly familiar, stripped-down version of Yellowcard’s “Hang You Up” from 2011’s When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes. It would be the perfect mashup for fans at an upcoming tour of solo material — blending the familiar pop punk standards with new fresh, acoustic material. Key, if you’re reading this — take note: we would love this mashup of old and new on the “Sick Tour 2018” with New Found Glory.

The acoustic EP is reminiscent of the backbones of Yellowcard’s lyrical subject matter, but a softer, more intimate delivery. Co-produced with Arun Bali (Saves the Day), at Key’s studio, The Lone Tree Recordings, Thirteen is the work of moving onward. Though it’s been a long time coming — just like the final song, “Great Unknown” calls out, it’s funny how time doesn’t mind.

Looking back at timelines of our lives, we can ponder if things would have worked out differently, better, or perhaps — worse. Some things fall apart, some things come together. Often times, it’s never the way you’d imagine it to be.

Funny how time doesn’t mind / Who we keep and who we bear to leave behind / So into this great unknown / I will wander on my own

Though we know Key isn’t actually wandering on his own — with countless longtime fans  who never really left his side.

He concludes, “I can only hope that this release is the beginning of a new chapter both for myself, and for the fans that have supported me for so very long.”


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Sarah Spohn

Sarah's a little bit of a rock 'n' roll rebel, almost always at a concert. She loves to soak up the scene, immersed in the music journalism world, still buys CDs and rents music documentaries from the library. Just don't call her a hipster. She's never been that stylish.

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