The Wonder Years - The Upsides (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Wonder Years

The Upsides (2010)

No Sleep

The Upsides ought to remind a lot of you of those gloriously awkward years of middle school and high school where social interaction was difficult and all you wanted to do was scurry home, forget about the "F" you got in algebra and cozy up with a pack of Oxy pads and your favorite Drive-Thru Records compilation. The guys in the Wonder Years were all just like us back then, and just like us they've grown up, but not without forgetting those sugary hooks and memorable choruses. Instead, they've taken those musical traits and the adolescent enthusiasm that's inherent in music like this, and molded it with mature lyrics that range from being personally revealing to socially conscious. Basically, The Upsides ain't pop-punk where it's all about the girls, and it's a breath of fresh air in a genre where far too many bands end up repeating themselves.

Some of the topics explored on The Upsides include shallowness ("This Party Sucks," "Melrose Diner"), closed-minded rural homophobia and racism ("Dynamite Shovel"), the vagabond-like tribulations of touring ("Everything I Own Fits in This Backpack") and insecurity ("Washington Square Park"), among other things. It's all stuff we've heard addressed before, but never in such a tone. Vocalist Dan Campbell's delivery is late '90s/early '00s pop-punk 101; the pitch at which he sings his words will undoubtedly be too high for some to handle, but it fits the music the four dudes behind him are playing like a glove and he never tries to wail beyond his range, thank goodness.

Going back to the music, the band's compositions are tight and it's obvious they're all above-average musicians; touring incessantly and hitting the practice space hard when they're home has undoubtedly helped these guys avoid that all-too-common pratfall, never sounding too big for their britches. The guitar-driven hooks in songs like "Washington Square Park" (especially the intro) and "It's Never Sunny in South Philadelphia" are undeniably catchy, and Mike Kennedy's drumming is subtly impressive throughout the album. The hardcore overtures the Wonder Years displayed in some of their earlier material never really show up on The Upsides, and the songs are better for it. Not every new-school pop-punk band needs to be Set Your Goals, nor should they all try.

A notable curveball occurs toward the end of the album with "Hey Thanks," a ukulele (played by Campbell) and trombone-driven song that, ironically, does seem to be about a relationship of some kind. The track also features backup vocals from Rachel Minton of Zolof the Rock and Roll Destroyer, her voice molding seamlessly with Campbell's in the chorus. It's a fun, non-essential treat that doesn't diminish the album's effectiveness, but it might've been better served as a B-side or even a hidden track.

The Upsides documents a band on the rise. The Wonder Years' abilities have traveled light years in a relatively short amount of time, and judging by their raucous live show, kids are starting to take notice. You should, too.