Yellowcard leaves their pop-punk sound on the floor and taps into the world of Nashville's ambient post-rock duo Hammock to reinvent and reimagine some of their most memorable songs.
Having spent most of 2023 celebrating the twentieth anniversary of their seminal album Ocean Avenue, Yellowcard vocalist/guitarist Ryan Key wondered what was next, where he felt the band and his songs should go. The answer was to go completely left field and give their music a fresh outlook, a new dawn, a new way of breathing, of existing.
Key became good friends with Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson of Hammock, having listened to their music for over a decade. The friendship grew through their mutual love of the sounds both artists create, and with Hammock being one of the defining and most pioneering artists in the post-rock and ambient space, this project was always going to be inspiring and move Key's work into a new stratosphere.
To emphasise this project, the album's lead single happens to be Yellowcard's biggest hit. Defining "Ocean Avenue" as an Emo/Indie classic is probably doing the song a disservice; its influence across generations, genres, and bands is huge. However, we have the track stripped down to the bare bones; the iconic riffs and pop punk-driven vocals are gone. We are left with fragile beauty, a haunting piano-led ballad that builds and progresses. The lyrics take on a completely different meaning; there's a yearning and need to revisit what once was. "Ocean Avenue" rides the emotional crest of a wave and truly does take you away.
"Empty Street" opens the record with powerful intent. It's a beautiful rendition, delicate and dreamlike, with Key's voice sounding better than ever. The middle eight of the song has the most beautiful piano refrain that then sees the song soar and drift into an ambient space full of wonder and delight.
"Southern Air" gets lifted from its roots and morphs into a delicate, contemplative, atmospheric anthem. Again, the lyrics hit differently: "I've watched the world go by outside a window / I still can't believe where I am now / It's been forever long adventures come and gone /, And I'm left alone but not let down" the words feel so incredibly sincere, you can hear the longing, desperation and tenderness. The sounds Hammock creates around Key's vocals are just stunning; they've found the perfect blend of atmospheric sounds and heartbreakingly beautiful vocals, and Key's voice has aged like the finest of fine wines.
"Telescope" loses its Brit-pop/Oasis origins and turns into a Death Cab For Cutie-inspired anthem; the song could easily fit into the work of Benjamin Gibbard, such as the delightful nods and gentle prods in his direction. And on that theme, the reinvention of "You and Me and One Spotlight" has drawn influences from The Postal Service; it has a picturesque, driving along the Pacific Coast feel.
With the original version appearing on 2006's Lights And Sounds, this version of "Waiting Game" drifts along in a dreamlike state of consciousness, swirling melodies and atmospheric ambience; it breathes new life into the song and feels reborn and revitalised. "Only One" has more post-punk, emo edges stripped away to become an ambient anthem; it is so far removed from the original that it takes some believing that the lyrical content is the same. As Ryan Key explains, "For each of these songs, I just sent over a lead vocal and a piano, and Hammock reinvented these songs in a way that only they could do," and what an incredible reinvention these songs have become.
"A Place We Set Afire" and "Transmission Home" bring the album to a delightful close; transmission... especially sounds beautiful; the chorus drifts and lifts perfectly, and the gentle orchestration that Hammock brings to the fore glides in and sounds huge, wave after wave building and creating atmospheric beauty. It is six minutes of sheer heaven wrapped up in musical form.
These versions bring new interpretations and meanings for listeners who have lived with them for many years. I truly hope more bands/artists take Yellowcard's lead and look to reinvent the wheel because this album has more than A Hopeful Sign; it has beauty and light shining through it.