Yellowcard grows up

The quintet, coming to Towson on Saturday, has a new album that moves beyond the pop-punk sound


Pete Mosely is loving the California sun right now.

"Beautiful weather, man; clear skies. It's great," he says. "I was out jet skiing earlier, and my face is sunburned." The Yellowcard bassist, keyboardist and songwriter is calling from San Diego, where he's taking a short break from his bandmates before a performance later that evening. Lately, he's had few moments away from the studio and the stage. The punk-inspired pop quintet has been on the grind, heavily promoting its new album, the gold-selling Lights and Sounds, the follow-up to its platinum 2003 major-label debut, Ocean Avenue.

This time around, the band, which headlines the Virgin College Mega Tour at Towson University on Saturday afternoon, tried to distance itself from the pop-punk label. The Disney-friendly teen angst and derivative punk riffs of Ocean Avenue have been supplanted by more substantive lyrics and ambitious arrangements that dip into alt-country, even a little jazz. String arrangements are also more prominent on the new CD.

"We were thirsty to move on to the next level," says Mosely, 25. "We wanted to show that there was more to us than pop-punk. The term pop-punk is an oxymoron in itself."

At the start of the record, the guys seem to eagerly announce, "Hey, we've grown up," with a string-and-piano intro that sounds like weepy music from a daytime soap. Lights and Sounds is a self-conscious effort, but more often than not, it pays off with easy melodies and inspired lyrics. However, the glossy, TRL-tailored "pop-punk" sound that sold nearly 2 million copies of Ocean Avenue hasn't been kicked to the curb. The title track, for instance, buzzes with familiar, crashing punk guitar chords and frantic drums. The song predictably explodes into a big chorus: "Stop, turn, take a look around/At all the lights and sounds/Let 'em bring you in/Slow, burn, let it all fade out/And pull the curtain down."

"We didn't set out to make The White Album," Mosely says, referring to the 1968 Beatles LP. "We're very much a live band, so we wanted something we can play on stage. And we wanted to give our audience a little more." After touring nonstop for about a year, the Los Angeles-based band needed a change of scenery to refuel. Mosely and lead singer-guitarist Ryan Key, the band's chief songwriters, moved to New York. The immediate stimulation of living in the ever-busy Big Apple eventually inspired a batch of probing songs.

"We had this nice 1,500-square-foot, two-bedroom loft," Mosely says. "We were like cave dwellers. We'd sleep all day, get really drunk, go out at night at the bars and live free for a minute. It cleared our heads before we could start on the record."

When the two finally got down to writing songs, they were surprised at the depth.

"New York was a catalyst to bring this out of us," says the musician. "The lyrics that came out of Ryan came out of a deeper place. We're both at a different place now at 25 and 27. We grew up faster to go to that next level, I guess."

Some of the more pointed lyrics on the album are on "Two Weeks from Twenty," a fictional story about a U.S. solider killed in Iraq two weeks before his 20th birthday. With its floating, fluttering trumpet lines, courtesy of Dave Costello, it's one of Lights and Sounds' better cuts. The sunny, slightly jazz-inflected arrangement belies the sadness of the tale.

"Before, the songs we did were promising and hopeful," Mosely says. "And this time, we wanted to show more of the twists and turns and doubts in life. That's confirmed every day living in New York."

The album isn't without its bloated moments. Toward the end, namely on "Words, Hands, Hearts" and "How I Go," the group's ambitions get the best of them. The songs are bogged down with grand strings and too much bombast. But overall, Lights and Sounds accomplishes the group's main goal: moving past the "pop-punk" bag and into richer musical territory.

"We didn't have a list of things we wanted to do differently on this record," Mosely says. "It just came to us. We're very happy with this record. Maybe it'll open another door to something else."

See Yellowcard at Towson University/Burdick Field, 8000 York Road in Towson. The show, which also features Mae and Over It, begins at noon and is free to the public.

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