The Wonder Years’ sixth record – out today – starts in Japan. Singer Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell begins its opening track, Raining In Kyoto, describing small intricacies from a time when his band passed through the titular city. The flooded streets, origami figures, spiritual shrines and his cheap vending machine coffee flash past at a galloping pace offset by soft guitars as another detail emerges: he’s missing a funeral back home. And suddenly, the real purpose of the song begins to unfurl. It’s a place for the frontman to deal with the guilt of being absent from his other life – the one where he has school friends, family and a front porch – in order to stand on stages in these foreign towns. Given this, the song could easily descend into a bleak four minutes. But it doesn’t. And that’s because of those tiny details – the folded paper crane, the stranger who helps Dan ring a bell at the shrine – and the humanity they represent. It’s a contrast that almost lifts the song to a place of intense brightness.
This bittersweet duality runs at the heart of Sister Cities. On the one hand, there are Dan’s delicate observations of life from the new and unfamiliar states and time zones he has visited with his band in the years since the release of 2015’s No Closer To Heaven (he kept a detailed journal over the months he was gone to keep these images fresh). But for each of these spiritual or charming apparitions taken from life on the road, there’s a sense that each mile between him and his hometown is still being counted.