William Ryan Key is the former front man of the band Yellowcard. One could call him a pop punk genius. The band commonly utilized a violin in their songs, which made for a distinct sound.
With emotional songs like “Ocean Avenue,” and “Sing for Me,” Key is all too familiar with putting his heart on his sleeve. With Yellowcard calling a quits in 2017, Key has gone on to pursue a solo career. His solo music, unlike that of Yellowcard’s, is stripped down to acoustics in most cases.
Virtue is Key’s second solo EP; his first being the surprise EP, Thirteen that came out earlier this Summer. Virtue continues with a more relaxed Key giving listeners acoustic songs and emotional lyrics.
This EP is nothing like 2003 Key, so do not expect to hear pop punk anthems going into it. Virtue is concerned with wordplay and harmonic balance. It is not an EP to bang your head to; it is one that explores feelings of vulnerability.
Virtue is stripped down when it comes to both lyrics and instrumentals. Key sings about his demons, and hopefully, his fanbase is willing to listen. No longer is he providing pop punk melodies; he is diving much deeper into himself.
Moving on, the first thing a listener probably will hear off Virtue that blasts through every track on the EP, is a Death Cab for Cutie sound. Key’s vocals and even instrumentals eerily echo that of Ben Gibbard’s. If one did not know any better, they would possibly even believe Gibbard is the one behind this EP.
Is the sounding alike a bad thing? Not necessarily. Both Gibbard and Key are incredible song writers. It would be amazing to see the two tour together since their voices flawlessly complement one another.
In terms of songs, Virtue begins with a wispy instrumental introduction titled, “The Same Destination.” It sets a calm and almost ethereal stage for the rest of the album to work off of. “Mortar and Stone” and “The Bowery” continue with relaxing melodies and a more mature sounding Key.
The second half of the EP is definitely where Key truly shines. It picks up instrumentally, and it becomes more distinct. “Virtue” wakes a listener up with arguably dramatic drums and a spoken-word conclusion that separates itself from earlier tracks.
“Downtown (Up North)” brings in a bittersweet balance of more upbeat instrumentals and cathartic vocals. It has a memorable chorus all while not falling into Key’s pop punk past; it is the most balanced song on the EP.
“No More, No Less” then closes the EP with a bang in terms of instrumentals. The drums are just phenomenal, and Key manages to stand out from his sound-alike, Gibbard.
Overall, Virtue seems to be a stepping stone for Key. At times, the EP is just missing that distinct instrumental sound that fans of his could hear coming from his previous work. Key needs something like that violin that made Yellowcard huge.
As time goes on, hopefully Key finds a way of standing out more. Until then, somebody please get him to sing with Ben Gibbard. A tour needs to happen.
Standout Tracks: “Virtue,” “Downtown (Up North),” and “No More, No Less”
Photos by Laura Ord from William Ryan Key’s performance at Emo’s in Austin, TX.
Freelance Writer and Photographer