November 26, 2018 William Ryan Key – Virtue (EP Review)
Following closely on the heels of his critically-lauded debut EP, Thirteen, William Ryan Key returns November 30th with the Virtue EP, via The Lone Tree Recordings. Still acoustically naked and emotionally raw, the former Yellowcard frontman’s confidence in his own songwriting comes further into the foreground in ways that pull him farther away from the band he cut his teeth on and more and more into his own skin.
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, whom he released eight albums with, Key was more than prepared to grab the reins and head out on his own. Rediscovering his muses and exploring a new head-space, he released the introspective Thirteen EP in late May, and has steadily toured that material since – opening for and performing with his friends New Found Glory, surprising fans at several Vans Warped Tour 2018 dates this summer, and, most recently, opening for Mayday Parade.
Reinvigorated by his recent wanderings and especially inspired by New York City, Key has compiled a new collection of material, the six-song Virtue EP. The collection opens with “The Same Destination,” where gently wrought electronic atmospherics and piano inspire us to open our eyes (and ears), building into glittering guitar work that flawlessly introduces “Mortar and Stone.” Here, we return to where Thirteen left off with its delicate acoustics and intimate lyrical nature. Crisp guitar work is layered to add a depth of sound that is fresh and empowering, driving the point of the song home.
“I don’t shine like the others do,” Key confesses on “The Bowery.” A fully confessional tale embedded in the dog-eat-dog world of New York, this is a track that spotlights Key’s talents perfectly: his insightful, open and honest songwriting alongside his knack for crafting a catchy song with tangible Pop sensibilities. Can you see the buildings lumbering above you as you dance through the East Village? Yes, yes you can!
There is a sweetness to each strum of the guitar on the titular “Virtue,” where Key provides an impassioned ode to those that inspire peace and integrity within us, who provide us with the love and grace to survive this world. This emotional heft paves the way for the glittering, melodic acoustics of “Downtown (Up North),” a beautifully catchy sing-along that maintains a gorgeous minimalism – despite the addition of subtle strings – that perfectly contrasts its predecessor.
Key experiments with distortion on his normally crisp vocals in “No More, No Less,” which adds an ominous intensity to the vocal track, contrasting beautifully with the song’s initially sweet sonics but weightier ideas. Eventually, the song builds and expands, demanding your entire focus and providing a truly stunning denouement to the collection. For all those musicians who are trying desperately to experiment with electronics and studio flourishes in their music nowadays and drowning themselves out in the mix: this is how you do it!
There are more layers to the songs on Virtue than were previously found on its sister EP, Thirteen. Yet, the bolder sound of Virtue respectfully maintains Key’s candid, contemplative nature that is anchored in a folksy minimalism, allowing his words to speak louder than the production. There is nothing shocking or outrageous herein, just some really great, insightful and wonderfully sincere music that will warm your heart and uplift your spirit. Simply put, Key is merely expanding his intelligent sound and exploring new facets and layers, more journeys off the beaten path in search of a new inspirations. Surely, you can’t blame a man for learning new tricks! For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give Willian Ryan Key’s Virtue EP 4.5 of 5 stars.