On William Ryan Key’s second solo EP, Virtue, he continues to stretch out his sound and repertoire with one of the better singer-songwriter works of art to date. While Thirteen was primarily based around the acoustic guitar, Key uses a fair amount of piano, electric guitar, and percussion on this recording to fill out the expansive sound that he was likely going for.
“The Same Destination” cuts through the opening bars of faint strings with carefully struck piano chords that help set the table for another brilliant showing from the former Yellowcard front-man. The wall of sound that opens this track features some more electric guitar elements that were missing on his previous EP and serves as a nice opening for the record. “Mortar and Stone” follows the tender opening with some intricately played acoustic guitar and layered vocals from Key. Key’s confidence broods throughout this EP that he self-described on his website as an “exploration of a new sound” and “evolution.” I concur with his line of thinking, as William Ryan Key has delivered another collection of songs worthy of his underrated legacy.
On the first single, “The Bowery,” Key’s honest lyrics in the opening verse, “I don’t shine like the others do/I’m so close, and so far/From the light you see them standing in/I’ll come running if you tell me to/Upstate, I’m too late/And the turnpike’s choking up again,” help shed some light on what is going on in his life. As Key shares his journey through not only his music but also his words, it’s hard not to be sucked into this expansive record that evolves right before us. “The Bowery” is not only my favorite song on the record but one of my favorite tracks that Key has penned in his career to date.
On the title track, Key continues to experiment with creating a fuller sound than the beautiful simplicity of Thirteen’s acoustic guitar-approach, and reminds us why he has gotten so far in his career: he writes amazingly honest songs. When he sings, “Still not out of the cold but I pretend/All of this had a warm and graceful end/Choose my words with a clouded mind tonight/Guard the doorway to the truth/My virtue lives with you,” it’s hard not to imagine him pouring his soul into every word and note found on this record that shines as bright as his spirit. Not to mention, the unexpected crescendo at the midway point of the song with some drums and percussion fills out the larger than life sound that many Yellowcard fans have grown accustomed to over the years.
The closing duo of songs in “Downtown (Up North)” and “No More, No Less,” solidified this record as one of my favorite EPs this year. In the fifth track, Key’s lyric of “Leave too much more, and I’ll stay up north,” really resonated with me as an admirer of his songwriting craft over the years. Key has always found a way to make connections in his personal life seem as earnest and believable as possible, much like listening to an old friend tell a story through his music. The album closer finds Key reflecting on what is to come when he sings, “Am I gonna survive when I’m out in the wild/Am I gonna belong/Am I gonna behave, when I’m looking to stay/When I’m looking to go.” The vocal effects are particularly haunting on this final song on an EP that has no shortage of memorable moments on its journey.
Overall, William Ryan Key has never been a stranger to taking chances on his songwriting craft and sound that he is going for. What feels different about this particular solo effort is how many of these risks pay significant dividends into a record that feels as complete as the stellar career that Key has worked so hard for. As much as the themes found on this record hint at an ending, I can’t help but look so forward to this artist’s future as a more than capable solo artist.