William Ryan Key – Thirteen (EP Review)

You may know William Ryan Key as the frontman/guitarist for Warped Tour mainstays Yellowcard, but on Thirteen, he dips his wings into glittering acoustics and Folk-dusted storytelling. The EP arrives on Friday, May 25, 2018, thanks to The Lone Tree Recordings.

After the break-up of Yellowcard in spring 2017, William Ryan Key took a deep breath and decided to hop toward the left, rediscovering his initial muses. Having toured the world for nearly two decades with the Pop Punk outfit, Key released eight albums with the group – ranging from 2001’s One for the Kids to the band’s break-out hit, 2003’s Ocean Avenue, to 2016’s Yellowcard – leaving him no stranger to writing, recording, and touring relentlessly.

For Thirteen, Key sonically redirected his talents, rediscovering his muses and exploring a new headspace. The result is an introspective collection that is anchored in a sound far from anything Pop Punk. Key himself notes, “It took a long time to find my own focus and direction after 17 years in a band. However, once I found it, the music felt like coming home. There was new freedom and creativity that I channeled into each of the songs.

The result of this homecoming is the five-song collection Thirteen, a stripped-down, back-to-basics embrace of acoustics and Folk/Pop tendencies that weave a simple but poetic anthology. Co-produced with Arun Bali of Saves the Day (who also mixed the EP) at his own studio, The Lone Tree Recordings, Thirteen marks a pivotal moment in Key’s life, moving into a solo career and exploring new sonic territory, refashioning his moniker (Yellowcard fans knew him solely as Ryan Key), and taking the reins to present music that is solely his own. There is no hiding this time around, and Key does himself proud!

Thirteen begins with “Old Friends,” a bittersweet, somewhat melancholic ode to the younger years with gentle acoustics alongside subtle storytelling that takes a retrospective look toward old transgressions and easily confesses its authors past faults. Showing a socially aware side, the steady tap and fancy fretwork of “Vultures” is a glancing look at those around us, feeding one another’s self-inflated egos and lies like circling birds of prey.

There is a more somber mood to “Form and Figure,” a haunting reminiscence of a past lover, while the beautifully glittering atmosphere evoked by the gentle sonics and wispy vocals of “Thirty Days” is a fleeting chase in the name of love. For the collection’s closing number, “Great Unknown,” Key amps it up to shining acoustics and a lamenting cello that paint beautiful visuals of wandering outdoors underneath a sunny sky, tall grass at your knees and the world at your feet. This ends the sampling of his talents on a beautifully satisfying note that resonates long after the collection comes to its lovely conclusion.

Authoring the next chapter in his musical journey, Key hopes that his fans will stick with him into this new land of acoustics and storytelling. The sound might be different but the heart and lyrical sincerity remain very much the same, creating a perfect segue between then and now. What will be for William Ryan Key is yet to be determined, but Thirteen, with its beautifully composed and presented five tracks, promises goodness and poetry, introspection and intelligent awareness. Along for the delicate ride, CrypticRock gives William Ryan Key’s Thirteen 3.5 of 5 stars.

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